On current form Carling is the best centre in the country and, if he can resist attempts to sidetrack him into a career in broadcasting, Jeremy Guscott is still the most naturally gifted. Together they have made a formidable partnership over the years and, given the right set of circumstances, there is no reason why they shouldn't continue to do so for some time to come.
If they do then Phil de Glanville's role as the uncomplaining but increasingly frustrated understudy is likely to be prolonged for the foreseeable future. Given the prevailing fashion for granting national captains a reasonably long period of tenure in which to prove their worth, the future could be bleak for De Glanville. The man who is appointed as Carling's successor would, barring accident or injury, be expected to lead England into the next World Cup three years hence and if, next season, that man is not De Glanville then it is hard to imagine that he would be asked to pick up the reins in mid-term.
De Glanville, however, fits the bill in so many respects. He is intelligent, articulate and enjoys the respect of his peers. Furthermore, in this media- conscious age he looks and sounds the part on television. The sport one feels would be safe in his hands. Nor does he inhabit the high octane world of Carling which, however much Carling himself tried to prevent it, so often proved at best a mild diversion and at worst an unwelcome intrusion into the sport.
Perhaps De Glanville's best chance of succeeding to the captaincy would be if Jack Rowell were to continue as England's manager. But Rowell's international future is as uncertain as Carling's. Were the Rugby Football Union to extend Rowell's contract then there is no doubt that Carling's international career would imperilled. The two do not get on and there is little point in pretending otherwise. Last week Rowell was forced to apologise to Carling's agent Jon Holmes for remarks he made in a national newspaper and the damage to the relationship between coach and captain, despite Rowell's outward display of admiration for Carling in the build- up to the Irish match, is well nigh irreparable.
In common with a number of others, however, Rowell may have a nagging doubt about De Glanville's ability to win his place in the side but it could be that De Glanville's skills as a captain outweigh any reservations about him as a player. That he can marshall a team and inspire it by his personality and that he can read a game and tactically direct it have been proved to the complete satisfaction of his legion of admirers at Bath, although international captaincy is an altogether different matter.
Captaincy in rugby is an elusive art, based not so much on experience and good judgement as in cricket, as on motivation and inspiration. There are far fewer decisions to be made in rugby than in cricket and beyond tossing a coin and applying the proverbial boot to the posterior of flagging colleagues, there is not a lot else to be done. It is as much about promotion and public relations as it is about leading the team to victory on the field. Long gone are the days when England sacked their captain in the wake of each defeat.
The true art of captaincy then lies in the ability to generate and maintain support. The good captain may not greatly enhance the performance of a successful team but he can work wonders for an indifferent one as Rob Wainwright has proved with Scotland this season. But are there any like him in England?
The other front runners are all forwards - Ben Clarke, Jason Leonard, Tim Rodber and Lawrence Dallaglio. Clarke fulfils one of the criteria in that he would lead by example but as he plays almost entirely with his heart rather than his head, he is not leadership material. Neither is Leonard despite his engaging presence and popularity within the team. Since that day at Port Elizabeth when the red mists descended over Rodber, his captaincy prospects as well as his form have been in decline.
Which leaves Dallaglio whose appeal to a coach seeking to rebuild the England side and leave his imprint on the style of rugby they adopt is similar to the appeal that Carling held eight years ago for Geoff Cooke. Dallaglio would come fresh to the table, unencumbered by the baaggage of previous administrations. Like De Glanville he looks and sounds the part and he appears to have the support of Rowell who is known to favour players who can think for themselves.
Dallaglio, in his short time as captain of Wasps and throughout a highly promising first season of international rugby, has proved his independence and resourcefulness. Moreover he has secured his place and his genuine versatility which enables him to play in any of the three back-row positions should ensure a longer than average life at the top. What is more he has a knowledge of and respect for the game's past, an essential component in any general's armoury. And if it takes a forward to look back and do something about England's play behind the scrum, and there is I sense something of the romantic in him, then Dallaglio could be an inspired choice.Reuse content