Rugby Union: Harlequins ready to accept Carling's decision on future

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Harlequins are performing somersaults in an effort to present the predicament involving Will Carling, their former England captain, in the best possible light.

Chris Hewett reports.

If, as the Harlequins hierarchy expect, Will Carling calls it quits later today, he will leave The Stoop with a six-figure golden handshake and the promise of a lucrative testimonial match to go with the inevitable tidal wave of tributes.

"Will has been absolutely fantastic for Harlequins," said Malcolm Wall, the chairman. "I've asked him to reconsider and the senior players have asked him to reconsider but, if retirement is his decision, we will bring his career to an end with a considerable fanfare and do everything he deserves."

Wall went on to deny that Carling's relationship with Andy Keast, the London club's director of rugby, had taken an acrimonious turn, although he hinted that the player's attempts to juggle full-time rugby with outside business interests had caused severe difficulties.

Carling was scheduled to make a pronouncement on his future today and while many Quins insiders believe he will leave centre stage and head for the wings - "Always assuming he can find the wings after spending an entire career ignoring them," joked a former colleague - personal friends indicated the decision was far from clear-cut. "The only statement Will is standing by is the one he made himself on Monday, saying that retirement was one of many options," said one.

Carling is midway through a three-year, pounds 120,000-a-season contract and a pay-off would have to be agreed. Ironically, Quins have only just emerged from their most recent contractual wrangle, an out-of-court settlement with Keast's predecessor, Dick Best, whose abrupt departure from The Stoop resulted from an outbreak of player power in which a certain Will Carling played a leading role.

It now appears that Carling himself was behind last weekend's rumour of an imminent switch to Wasps. If he set the grapevine humming in an attempt to force the issue at Quins, where he recently lost his place in the Premiership line-up, the move backfired. Keast, a strong character in the Best tradition, was clearly put out by the episode and spoke in unequivocal terms about Carling's "responsibility to the club".

Meanwhile, the South African Rugby Football Union found itself at the centre of a contractual dispute yesterday when Carel du Plessis, the sacked Springbok coach, filed a pounds 250,000 claim for unfair dismissal. The former Test wing lost his job after suffering all manner of indignities during the Lions and Tri-Nations series last summer but now claims Sarfu reneged on an understanding that he would remain in situ until after the 1999 World Cup. "Papers have been served on us and we're prepared to go to court on the issue," Rian Oberholzer, the Sarfu chief executive, said.