Rugby Union: Will Carling stay or will he go? A nation yawns

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The Independent Online
It used to be quite simple, even for rugby players. When the time came for an honoured practitioner of the 15-man code to call it a day, he would stride purposefully from pitch to bar, order himself a large one and state his intentions, loud and clear and with great good humour. "That's it, finished," said Gareth Chilcott, the comically spherical Bath and England prop, after his final appearance four years ago. "I think I'll have a last quiet pint... and about 17 noisy ones."

Since when, things appear to have grown more complicated. Whatever the reasons behind Will Carling's move to delay any announcement on his future for "another few days", his indecision is clearly final: either he genuinely cannot decide whether he wants to play again or he cannot decide on the best way to maximise his earnings from the announcement. Meanwhile, a nation yawns.

Yesterday, Carling's select coterie of friends and advisors let it be known that "senior players" had "pleaded" with Carling to put retirement on the back burner and soldier on, presumably for the good of the game. There was no word from the great man himself, of course - at times like this, he makes Greta Garbo look like Clive Anderson. No, rugby was suddenly scratching around in the political spin- doctor's world of hints and murmers, nods and winks, official denials and off-the-record briefings.

The situation has now descended into pure farce. Indeed, it may be the sport's most ludicrous episode since Carling coined his "57 old farts" phrase before the 1995 World Cup - an event that left English rugby gobsmacked, not so much because of the national captain's lack of discretion but because his words were not sold exclusively to one of the tabloid newspapers he purports to despise so much.

Carling was big news in his heyday and rightly so, for he was a formidable centre threequarter and indisputably successful as an England captain who did more than most to transform a cauliflower ear of a minority sport into something altogether more glamorous and universal.

But that heyday has come and gone. It may be pointless to use the "all things must pass" argument to this particular non-passing rugby legend, but an early end to the amateur dramatics would be much appreciated.