Rugby Union: End of an era as Dooley announces retirement: Steve Bale applauds the Blackpool tower's record-breaking career as a rugby union lock

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The Independent Online
NOWADAYS, 6ft 8in is merely average height for an international lock but when Wade Dooley came into the England team nine years ago he was regarded as almost freakish in his physical dimensions. It was the Blackpool tower who ushered in the era of gargantuan forwards.

Yesterday, Dooley, 36, announced his retirement from all rugby, a year after he retired internationally as his country's most-capped lock. He ushered in one era and now he has closed another, for it is as good as certain that never again will a Fourth Division player represent England.

Dooley, the proud Preston Grasshopper, was the exception who proved the rule that the hard graft of the First Division was the only adequate preparation for the Test-match big-time. 'It's a big step up from Preston to England, but the only time I ever found it hard was in my very first international,' he said.

That was against Romania in 1985, the first of 55, and except for a couple of seasons with Fylde, he spent the entire nine years with the 'Hoppers. To have made the jump so often and so successfully was an astonishing achievement. 'He is a very shrewd manager of his own human resources, which is shown by the fact that of all his England appearances there have been very few when he has under-performed,' Geoff Cooke, manager during most of the Dooley years, said.

Were he still manager, Cooke would no longer make such an exception; neither will Cooke's successor, Jack Rowell. 'I played for England for all but a couple of seasons while with Preston,' Dooley said yesterday. 'Now the message is you have to play in Division One to get in the England team.'

Dooley set out when England were habitual losers and, content with his lot as a Lancashire policeman, never even aspired to become one of the glamour boys of the winning years with which he crowned his career. But it was above all Dooley who gave that England side its backbone, particularly during the three years when he shared a world-beating second- row partnership with Paul Ackford, the PC packing down alongside an inspector.

Dooley had been a raw talent that had taken several years to make into something more wholesome. So raw that when he won his first cap he was virtually unknown other than to the then England coach, Dick Greenwood, who as a Lancastrian knew about him through the county set-up.

There was a darker side, too. Dooley was suspended for his part in the punch-up against Wales in Cardiff in 1987 when he broke Phil Davies's jaw. When he perforated Doddie Weir's eardrum in the 1992 Calcutta Cup match, his erstwhile Lions colleague John Jeffrey wanted him banned for life, and on tour in 1991 he missed both Tests, against Fiji and Australia, after breaking a hand punching Queensland's Sam Scott-Young.

But he still deserves to be regarded as one of rugby's good guys, one of the unsung heroes who give the game its heart and soul. With Dooley at the forward core, England did back-to- back Grand Slams in 1991 and '92 and reached the 1991 World Cup final. His career could scarcely have a finer epitaph.