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Comments were 'off the record'

Chris Rea reports on the profound effects of 'unwitting' remarks
AS SOME of Will Carling's England colleagues sprung to his defence last night, the deposed captain said he was the unwitting victim of some sleight of hand by the makers of the TV programme on which he made his now infamous remarks.

Carling believed that the interview with Greg Dyke, the presenter of the programme, Fair Game, was at an end. He was off camera and, as far as he was aware, the microphones had been switched off.

It was then, a source close to Carling said last night, that he was informally asked, on an off-the-record basis, for his thoughts about the RFU to which he gave his response. Not only did the programme include the remark as its final item but used the comment in all the promotional material prior to transmission.

In his column in the Mail on Sunday, Carling said: "I realised I had said something very stupid in an off-guarded moment but I just couldn't believe that anybody could be so offended that they would take such Draconian action without even allowing me to put my side in a fair hearing." He added: "Dudley Wood made a bad mistake in front of the Press a year ago, making remarks that most people believed were racist, not just insulting, and nothing came of it. I say something which was never intended for broadcasting, and I'm pilloried."

The Bath and England full-back Jon Callard certainly believed that the judgement was harsh. "You can't have a chap who has served England so well for so long treated this way," he said. He also hinted that the squad will come out in support of Carling when they meet for a squad training session tomorrow night. "We'll see the power of the England squad. At the end of the day, who is going to bring back the World Cup - the players or the committee?" He added that the contentious comments should have been taken with "a pinch of salt".

Ben Clarke, the England No8 who also played in Bath's victorious Pilkington Cup side yesterday, said that the RFU should have delayed their decision. "They should have taken their time and thought about it. You don't need a reaction straight away." He felt that Carling was "the sort of character who will bounce back".

Carling was not at his home in Battersea, south London, last night and is not due to attend England's squad session tomorrow because of business commitments. But the damage done to him, the repercussions on his business career and the effect it will have on England's World Cup chances from a few seconds of unguarded and, in Carling's view at least, off-the-record comment, is incalculable.