Rugby Union: Only cheers for Carling on his second coming

Harlequins 9 Leicester 34
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The Independent Online
HE DID not have quite the impact as a substitute that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did for Manchester United, but Will Carling certainly did not let Harlequins down when he came on against the Allied Dunbar Premiership leaders, Leicester.

By and large, the modest crowd of 6,212 seemed happy with the second coming.

Carling is no Messiah and he certainly did not produce any miracles, but there was no antipathy, no jeers, only cheers. Expectations were not high apparently.

That was chiefly because by the time he did trot on to replace centre Peter Mensah, there was far too much to do. The Tigers were so far in front that the eight minutes 26 seconds that remained of the match would never have been enough. Indeed, shortly after Carling's arrival Leicester scored their final try, following a stupendous break by Martin Corry.

Even so the former England captain, making his 153rd appearance in a Harlequin shirt pronounced himself satisfied after a touch or three of the ball and a couple of teak-hard tackles.

"It was just a gentle reintroduction to rugby," explained Carling, 33. "It was just nice to get back on the pitch. I enjoyed it."

John Schuster, his partner in the centre for those few brief minutes, said: "It's a big ask to expect him to come in and perform, but I think he slotted in very well and with a few more games under his belt he should get better."

Harlequins have done their best to shield Carling from the ever-eager media once the announcement of his return had been made early last week. He has trained with the squad and come through the sessions successfully, all the while dutifully avoiding contact with the press.

No surprise then, in a virtual press free week when Carling added: "I've enjoyed the whole week. It's been great. There's been a very good reaction from the players and all sorts of people since I've been back." But he is well aware of what remains to be done and he said: "It's now a question of getting match fit and meriting a place in the side. I've got to prove to these guys that I can do it. We'll have to see how it goes, work on the ball skills and, fingers crossed... I've got to put in some hard work to get really fit. There's a lot of work to be done."

He is not kidding. John Gallagher, the former All Black, who is now director of rugby at Quins and was instrumental in persuading Carling to re-sign for the club he walked out of 13 months ago, said: "Will didn't do anything wrong. He didn't miss anything. But just because he is back in the squad does not mean he gets in the team by right."

Harlequins: Penalties Schuster 3. Leicester: Tries Moody, Back, Lloyd 2, Stransky; Conversions Stransky 3; Penalty Stransky.

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, P Mensah (W Carling, 76), J Schuster, D Luger; D Pears, H Harries (N Walshe, 63); J Leonard (A Yates, 13-21), T Murphy (capt; C Ridgway, 76), G Halpin (A Yates, 73), G Llewellyn, G Morgan, R Jenkins, C Sheasby (S White-Cooper, 23; B Davison, 49), A Leach.

Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd (M Horak, 76), C Joiner, P Howard (J Stuart, 76), D Lougheed; J Stransky, A Healey; G Rowntree (D Jelley, 70), R Cockerill (D West, 70), D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F van Heerden (N Fletcher, 40), L Moody (W Johnson, 70), M Corry, N Back.

Referee: C Rees (London).