Carling's critique enlivened by plea for early selection

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Rugby Union


If there is as much tension between Jack Rowell and Will Carling as has come to be popularly supposed, it will not have been helped by yesterday's call from Carling - in the wake of the savaging his team took for the drab way they beat Wales - for Rowell to make his selection to play Scotland immediately.

The England captain had been summoned to Twickenham in Rowell's absence to give what was billed as a "Five Nations mid-point review". But instead he presented a ritually upbeat critique of how England played that was in direct contradiction to the view expressed in the same forum by Don Rutherford, the RFU's technical director.

As England are not involved in the next round of Five Nations matches, they have the option of extra practice and an unwontedly early announcement of the team. This would suit Carling. "But that's just me and that has to come from the management and I don't want to get myself in trouble," he said hastily. "As captain, I would like to get the team named and their minds focused as soon as possible. But Jack has to make that decision; it's not up to me."

Carling's apprehension about the manager's reaction stems from last week's pre-match "revelation" that he no longer sat in on selection - which was hardly news but was enough to leave Rowell fuming with anger over how the media ogres would interpret it. The subsequent adverse response to the Welsh match will not have helped.

But, as if in answer to recent speculation, Carling was emboldened to contrast the management of Rowell with that of his predecessor, Geoff Cooke. "Geoff was a meticulous planner and a great man for detail. The view now is that to compete with the southern hemisphere, to have a team that will compete at the 1999 World Cup, you need players who will play a very flexible game.

"Maybe we didn't have those players before, so we didn't have that luxury. We need a broader canvas and Jack paints on a big canvas. It's more of a challenge to players to come in with more freedom to express themselves but with more responsibility."

These responsibilities, as Rutherford then made clear, now include the dread word "entertainment" (of spectators paying pounds 33 a head) - a responsibility that evidently was not discharged against Wales, whose merits relative to England's Rutherford nevertheless haughtily dismissed.

"It's not acceptable to play a sterile sort of game," he said. "There were times in that game when we were so much on top I was expecting 40 points. We should have won by 40 points; we were that much better. But we didn't keep the ball in our hands; we kicked it away - and so badly, which compounded it.

"A few years back if we had beaten Wales by half a point we would all be cheering. But it's not acceptable now. People want to be entertained, and just winning is not acceptable. They demand entertainment and felt short-changed. The England players have to take that aboard."

Alan Watkins, Brittle peace, page 26