Rugby Union: Carling stays in command for England: Rowell's call

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WILL CARLING has been appointed England's captain for all six matches this season, making it all but unthinkable that even under the new management regime he will not carry on for the World Cup in South Africa, which immediately follows the season.

The England manager, Jack Rowell, informed the Rugby Football Union of his choice last Friday but, there having been no similar announcement in any of the five seasons since Carling was first made captain in 1988, the RFU had not intended to say anything more about it.

Since the union has taken to complaining at the coverage it has been receiving of late - in particular that concerning amateurism and pressure on players - this might have been thought to provide a felicitous opportunity to concentrate on a high-profile aspect of the actual playing of the game.

Instead, Carling's captaincy was completely ignored at Monday's RFU press conference at Twickenham when, yet again, amateurism and pressure on players were the leading topics on the union's own agenda and Dennis Easby, the RFU president, stated that Tim Rodber's dismissal in South Africa would not preclude him from the captaincy should the opportunity arise.

Later, however, Easby confided that he had sent his congratulations, and doubtless Carling was thrilled to have them. He has been appointed with the obvious proviso that he retains his form - good for Harlequins at Sale, less so against Wasps before he went off with the hamstring strain that will absent him from Quins' match at Bristol on Saturday.

Indeed, if Jeremy Guscott were to return full of running from his long-term pelvic injury, there could yet be a ticklish selectorial choice by the time of the Five Nations' Championship.

Although the England captain has never exactly had his place guaranteed, when he was originally elevated before the Australia game six years ago it was effectively for all of the three years leading to the 1991 World Cup. And, certainly as long as Geoff Cooke was manager, his selection was as close as could be to automatic.

But, as the sacking of Dick Best as coach and Rowell's simultaneous assumption of coaching responsibility showed, no one involved in the England team or management could take anything for granted once Rowell had succeeded Cooke.

This now applies to Carling no less than his team- mates, even though Rowell began his managership by keeping him as captain for the South African tour and, at the same time, expressing every confidence that he would lead England into the World Cup. As recently as three weeks ago, at the start of this season, Rowell said: 'Will's position is unchanged as far as I'm concerned. He is, and will remain, England's captain.'

Carling said: 'It's very flattering that Jack wants me to continue, but at the same time it's meaningless if I'm not performing at the required level. Jack's feeling is if I'm good enough to be in the side, then I will be captain. But continuous performance from me is necessary, otherwise this appointment counts for nothing.'

This is a sensibly understated response - the more so because if you had to choose the form centre from the tour it would probably be Phil de Glanville, and the successful renewal of his club partnership with Guscott would inevitably be of keen interest to Rowell with his long Bath connection.

For the manager to have acted any differently now, with Carling having led England in 42 of his 49 Tests, would have been a dramatic gesture, though not unimaginable after what happened to Best. Rowell retained the former coach for South Africa but then dispensed with his services after England had shared the series 1-1 and lost four of the other six games.

Carling's next matches for England, against Romania and Canada at Twickenham on 12 November and 10 December, will give him his 50th and 51st caps. Personal form and perhaps Jeremy Guscott permitting, he will have reached 55 (48 as captain, a record in Test rugby) by the time England kick off their World Cup against Argentina in Durban on 27 May.

Andrew accuses, page 36