Rugby Union: Carling eyes new start at club in Japan

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The Independent Online
IT IS DARKLY symbolic of his precipitous fall from grace - not to mention the state of his bank balance - that Will Carling, once an undisputed giant of his chosen sport, should even consider attempting to resurrect his career among the physical and metaphorical rugby minnows of the Far East.

England's former captain, who appears to have achieved the improbable by leaving the domestic game with fewer friends than he went in with, hinted yesterday that a comeback in Japan might be on the cards for this year.

Carling retired almost exactly a year ago after falling out with the then Harlequins coach, Andy Keast. It was merely the beginning of a catastrophic few months, during which exposes of the Lions centre's labyrinthine private life led directly to the cancellation of a potentially lucrative Wembley testimonial fixture and contributed to the swift demise of his embryonic broadcasting career. Hence his renewed interest in the commercial possibilities of a high-profile return to the rough-and-tumble at the ripe old age of 33.

"I intend to play abroad somewhere later this year," he confirmed yesterday, "and I have two or three options as to where I might start. Rugby has been a large part of my life since I was six and there are still a few things I want to do in the game. It's a matter of kick-starting the process; I'm very much aware of how much preparation I will need in order to play at a serious level. I've got to get myself physically fit and then become match hard. Obviously, I can only do that by playing some warm-up matches."

His comments appeared to rule out any early link-up with Pontypridd, whose recent interest in his services was more than a little surprising given their reputation as one of Welsh rugby's earthier outfits. (During his decade at Quins, Carling was considered a champagne-and-caviar type, not a pie-and-chips man). The odd French club, notably Begles-Bordeaux, were also thought to have been keen on contracting him, but club rugby on the far side of the English Channel is even less forgiving than it is in the valleys.

Carling would have to be very confident of his physical powers to even dream about dipping his toe in those dangerous waters.

All of which leaves Japan as the likeliest destination; Carling's name would be sufficient to draw big crowds and ensure the kind of mega-bucks contract the Japanese throw at disaffected former New Zealand Test players in an effort to raise their domestic standards. Graeme Bachop, the All Blacks' scrum-half in the last World Cup, currently plays there.

Back in the less exotic surroundings of Heywood Road, Sale yesterday transfer-listed Kevin Ellis, their Welsh scrum-half, in an effort to free up funds for a root-and-branch strengthening of their struggling pack.

Ellis, who has 18 months of his contract still to run, will follow Tom Beim, the England wing, out of the club as soon as a deal is struck, and there could be yet more movement as John Mitchell, the assistant coach to the national side, addresses the power shortage that has left the Cheshire outfit third from bottom in the Allied Dunbar Premiership.

However, Shane Howarth, the former All Black full-back who made such a successful switch to Wales before Christmas, has reconfirmed his commitment to Sale.

"I am currently under contract here," he pointed out yesterday as the gossip merchants continued to link him with a move to Cardiff. "This is where I am staying and I am sick of these rumours."