Rugby Union: Carling ready to call time on his career

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Will Carling, the most successful captain in English rugby history, is considering retiring after a frustrating Christmas at Harlequins. Chris Hewett says the time is right to call it a day.

Twenty-four hours after his latest flirtation with the rugby grapevine, Will Carling was back in the land of rumour and supposition last night - and this time the buzz had a terminal ring to it. According to his club coach, Andy Keast, Carling had finally called time on a roller-coaster of a career.

On Sunday, Keast, the director of rugby at Harlequins, denied that the unsettled Carling was about to move across the Thames to Wasps in a bank- breaking loan deal. Yesterday, after what were described as "crisis talks" with the man himself, he came out with something far more dramatic.

"He came to me and informed me he was retiring," said Keast. "I asked him to give me his decision in writing. He has not done so yet. If he has decided to re-think, that is his decision. It's his life. There is clearly plenty of rugby left in this season and plenty of rugby left in him, but he's got to be happy and have the desire to play."

If that sounded unsentimental, Keast followed with an equally blunt pay- off line. "The only thing that matters to me is the future of Harlequins. We are a business and a profession and we all have a responsibility to dedicate ourselves to the Quins objective," he asserted in a manner that could only fuel speculation that coach and player had fallen out in comprehensive fashion.

Carling was more equivocal last night, saying: "A number of options are open to me, retirement being one of them. I've been asked by senior players to delay that decision for 48 hours."

However, Carling, 32 last month, is currently nursing a broken hand that will keep him out of action for at least a month. There is no guarantee that he will force his way back into the Quins senior side, as Keast dropped him recently and considers him well short of full fitness.