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Europe is goal for Dallaglio

ENGLAND's success in the Five Nations' Championship may be only a week old but Lawrence Dallaglio has already consigned it to history.

The 23-year-old Wasps flanker has been transformed in just four months from a tiro on the fringe of the England squad into the hot tip to succeed Will Carling to the captaincy. Not only has he been hailed as Europe's finest example of the bulky athleticism so revered in southern hemisphere rugby, but he is even rubbing shoulders in his new agent's office with the likes of Anthea Turner and Phillip Schofield.

Exalted though he might feel, he insists he will not give international rugby another thought until he has led Wasps into the promised land of next season's European Cup. "My immediate focus is on Wasps finishing in the top four of the Courage League now that England's season is over," he said. He is now displaying similarly focused diplomacy over the England captaincy. "It's very flattering, but I'm not paying too much attention to it. England aren't touring this summer so there'll be no decision before next season."

Despite standing 6ft 4in and scaling 161/2 stone, dimensions perhaps better suited to a No 8, Dallaglio has made the position of England's open-side flanker his own. In recent years, the breakaway's role has been fumbled around between numerous unconvincing candidates. A lack of size militated against Neil Back and Andy Robinson while Ben Clarke never quite looked fast or sharp enough.

Dallaglio, even though he is roughly the same build as Clarke, is a totally different animal. On his debut as a replacement for Tim Rodber against South Africa at Twickenham last November, he made more impact during the 15 minutes he was on the pitch than the rest of England's pack managed in the full 80.

Against Western Samoa, he relieved Robinson of the No 7 shirt and scored a try. The England manager Jack Rowell has since dubbed him "our very own Francois Pienaar". Clearly recognising a rare commodity, the unearthing of which he had declared to be his priority after last year's World Cup, Rowell sees Dallaglio as "an immense player, hard mentally, hard physically, very constructive".

Ironically, this prototype of rugby's future is not the product of some fantastic new experiment in player engineering. Rather, his elevation appears to vindicate the virtues of a well-established structure. Having learnt to play at Ampleforth College, he has been capped at almost every level - Under-18, colts, Under-21, students, emerging players and England A. Along the way, he rejected the blandishments of his father's native land, despite holding an Italian passport, and went on to be a key member of the England team that won the 1993 World Cup Sevens in Scotland.

"When I was 16, not many of the England side then had played at the different levels. But most of my age group have come up through the development teams and it's given us the confidence to feel we can beat anyone."

By his own admission, Dallaglio started the season "hoping for a call- up to England's early season training squad. Then everything snowballed." The avalanche really began in October when he was plucked from the chaos which resulted from Rob Andrew and Dean Ryan's acrimonious departure to Newcastle to take over as captain of Wasps. "That was traumatic in itself, let alone what was going on with England," Dallaglio said. But he took it all in his massive stride. According to the Wasps coach Rob Smith: "He is very mature for a young man and I had no doubts he could do the job." That maturity was also recognised by Rowell when he asked Dallaglio to deliver the team talk on the day before the Scotland-England game. After enduring the loss of his sister Francesca in the Marchioness tragedy seven years ago, he should find very little in rugby to faze him.

"I reached my targets this season sooner than I had anticipated," he said. "But I have no intention of reflecting on what has happened until the end of the season. If you reflect during the season things can turn against you." Wasps' forthcoming opponents have been warned.