Carling retires for second time in characteristic style

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The Independent Online

Will Carling has always been his own man. Done things his way; when it suited him. His admirers put it down to Carling's single-mindedness: the attitude which brought him so much success as England's captain. His detractors - especially at his club Harlequins - claim that Carling's self-interested influence has been disproportionate to his waning talents, and he was held responsible for the acrimonious departure of Dick Best after two of Quins' most successful campaigns when they finished third in the First Division in successive seasons.

Will Carling has always been his own man. Done things his way; when it suited him. His admirers put it down to Carling's single-mindedness: the attitude which brought him so much success as England's captain. His detractors - especially at his club Harlequins - claim that Carling's self-interested influence has been disproportionate to his waning talents, and he was held responsible for the acrimonious departure of Dick Best after two of Quins' most successful campaigns when they finished third in the First Division in successive seasons.

When it became evident that Carling's time as the leader of the national side was coming to an end after their lame semi-final performance against New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup, Carling chose the moment torelinquish the captaincy after England's last match in the Five Nations' Championship thefollowing spring. A year later, Carling bowed out of international rugby after England'sdefeat of Wales in Cardiff, at the close of the 1997 Championship.

Retirement from club rugby followed until, in February of last year, Carling made his return for Harlequins, claiming he missed the camaraderie of the game which had been so integral a part of his life. But well before Carling's second coming, Quins were in all sorts of trouble, both on and off the field. True theyimproved on their third-from-bottom finish in the FirstDivision in 1998, to rise to fourth last season, but this winter has been a disaster for them.

So rather than wait to be pushed, Carling has jumped, announcing his retirement yesterday when the possibility dawned of him not being one of the seven offered contracts by Harlequins for next season; six from the current squad, plus the Ireland captain and hooker Keith Wood. True to form, none of the Harlequins' management appeared to know of Carling's pending announcement. Before the game, their director of rugby, John Gallagher, said: "I'm surprised by the timing. Will said nothing about this when I saw him at training on Thursday."

After a match which went Sale's way early in the second half, when Gareth Llewellyn was sent to the sin-bin for deliberate off-side, Gallagher offered the phlegmatic view that: "It's just another of those weekends." Quins have had a few of these recently; most of them without much of a contribution from W D C Carling. The official reason for his absence was aninjured left shoulder.

It was tight until half-time was reached at 16-13, with Barrie-Jon Mather and Brendon Daniel each touching down. For Quins, John Schuster and Rob Liley mustered a penalty apiece, with Schuster converting Daniel's try. Nicky Little converted Mather's score and added three penalties.

While Llewellyn was doing time, Sale bagged 20 points to ease their play-off anxieties. Little kicked his fourth penalty and converted tries by Steve Diamond and Alex Sanderson, before tagging on a dropped goal. Daniel's second try, in stoppage time, was but a token gesture.

Sale: Tries Mather, Diamond, A Sanderson; Conversions Little 3; Penalties Little 4; Drop Goal Little. Harlequins: Tries Daniel 2; Conversions Rees, Schuster; Penalties Schuster, Liley.

Sale: J Mallinder; M Moore, J Baxendell (capt), B-J Mather, S Hanley; N Little, C Turvey; P Smith (D Bell, 62), J Clark (S Diamond, h-t), D Theron (P Winstanley, 75), G Manson-Bishop, M Tinnock (A Whittle, 73), A Sanderson, R Appleyard (A Morri, 27-37), P Anglesea.

Harlequins: B Gollings; D O'Leary, N Greenstock, J Schuster, B Daniel; R Liley (G Rees, 70), P Richards; D Barnes, S Mitchell (C Ridgeway, 55), J Leonard, G Morgan (S White-Cooper, 62), G Llewellyn (capt), Z Brooke, P Sanderson (R Jenkins, 62), C Sheasby.

Referee: S Leyshon (Bristol).

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