Dallaglio, a force of nature, returns from self-imposed exile

He is no longer captain or an automatic choice but the England veteran will back himself to play in the Six Nations next month. Chris Hewett reports
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The Independent Online

Nineteen months ago in Brisbane, the force of rugby nature known as Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio walked into the bar of the team hotel with his usual air of swaggering authority, which was no mean effort given that he and his England team had just found themselves on the painful end of a 50-point hiding by the Wallabies. Asked how he was feeling about life - quite possibly the daftest journalistic question in the history of professional sport - he replied: "I'm fine, apart from being suicidal."

A couple of months later, he was history; another proud workhorse in the knacker's yard of international union. But for those who subscribe to the cyclical view of history, there was always a chance that he would reconsider his decision to retire from Test activity, especially with a Lions tour of New Zealand in the offing. Sure enough, Dallaglio made that trip to All Black country last June. He did not last long - an orthopaedic calamity in the opening match against Bay of Plenty put paid to his hopes and dreams of glory - but his appetite was sharpened. Once the doctors had worked out how to get his horribly mangled ankle pointing in the right direction and assured him he would be able to continue playing after a decent period of R and R, his thoughts turned back towards England.

Yesterday, he completed another stage of his rehabilitation by winning himself a place in his country's 36-man squad for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. He is not captain - Martin Corry of Leicester holds the reins now. He is not even the first-choice No8, for Corry performs that role, too. But he is in there mixing it with the England élite and, for that, the brogued and Barboured habituées of Twickenham will thank the good Lord in triplicate.

One of eight Wasps involved - 31 of the squad have been drawn from just five clubs, which should shake up the Guinness Premiership a little over the coming weeks - Dallaglio has rival back-row contenders coming at him from every corner. If Corry prefers the No8 position, so does James Forrester of Gloucester and, if truth be told, Joe Worsley, who has spent so much time as Dallaglio's protegé at club level that he must wonder whether he will ever be allowed to reach sporting adulthood. Chris Jones, of Sale, is involved, as are Lewis Moody, Pat Sanderson and Magnus Lund, the new boy from Edgeley Park. England may be short of Test-class scrum-halves, but they are positively awash with loose forwards.

Yet Dallaglio is the one with 73 caps in his kitbag and two stints as national captain on his CV, the one who automatically commands attention in the squad environment. If he talks a lot, the vast majority of what he says makes perfect sense. Andy Robinson, the England coach, has not always been the Londoner's greatest supporter, for his honest-to-goodness Somerset soul makes him suspicious of anyone with the slightest hint of West End wide boy about him. But Robinson also knows a big-time performer when he sees one, and has toured with Dallaglio often enough to recognise his virtues.

Ian McGeechan, one of the great coaches of the modern era who, on the Lions tour of South Africa in 1997, invited the 24-year-old Dallaglio to sit on the senior players' committee, now works with him at Wasps. He was genuinely delighted by yesterday's announcement, even though he might well lose his most influential player for three important Premiership matches over the next couple of months or so. Indeed, he could not have been more generous in his praise, lauding Dallaglio for his "enormous determination" and "huge commitment".

For his part, Dallaglio was more keen to wallow in the wider success of the club he joined as a teenager than bask in the sunshine of individual achievement. "The great news is the news surrounding Wasps," he said. "Everyone should be proud of the 14 players selected in the Test and A-team squads. It reflects the strength of the club, its philosophy and ethos. Playing at the highest possible level has always been the aim at Wasps. If anyone is worried about the adverse consequences of having so many players absent on England duty, they should look at our record over the last three years. What may in the short term feel like a problem or a setback is actually a very positive thing."

Positive thinking comes as naturally to Dallaglio as breathing. He may not be an automatic choice for the opening Six Nations fixture against Wales at the start of next month, but no one will back himself more confidently to make the final cut.

Lowdown on Lawrence

* 1972 Born Shepherd's Bush, London.

* 1995 Makes Test debut against South Africa.

* 1997 Named England captain.

* 1999 Stands down after allegations of drug-taking in tabloid Sunday newspaper.

* 2003 Only England player to play every minute of World Cup campaign.

* 2004 Takes over from Martin Johnson as England captain for Six Nations but retires from international game in August.

* 2006 Recalled to England Six Nations squad.

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