Dallaglio's new contract has England implications

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The Independent Online

Lawrence Dallaglio, the one member of England's great triumvirate of World Cup-winning icons currently active on the Test stage, signed a two-year extension to his club contract with Wasps yesterday - the clearest possible confirmation of his desire to help his country to retain the Webb Ellis Trophy in France next year.

All of which leaves Andy Robinson, the beleaguered national coach, struggling anew with the problem that has complicated his life since the start of the Six Nations Championship: what the hell to do with him.

Robinson ignored the 33-year-old Londoner - the most celebrated player in England now that Martin Johnson has retired and the permanently injured Jonny Wilkinson has disappeared off the radar - for the duration of England's defeat by Ireland at Twickenham 13 days ago, leaving him to stew on the bench. Dallaglio, bitterly disappointed at being the one full-time member of the Six Nations squad not given a start in any of the five matches, was even less impressed by that final blow to his esteem, which some took to signal an end of the red-rose hierarchy's interest in him.

But the situation is far from clear-cut. Indeed, it is not beyond possibility that Dallaglio will be asked to lead the world champions on their two-match visit to Australia this summer. If Martin Corry of Leicester, the captain and Dallaglio's rival for the No 8 position, is ordered to rest - and the indications are that Robinson wants him to take time out after an exhausting period - there are precious few candidates for the role.

Dallaglio has had two spells as England skipper. Ironically, he turned his back on the captaincy, not to mention his international career, after suffering the humiliation of a 50-point defeat by the Wallabies in Brisbane in 2004. That retirement lasted less than 18 months, and following an unprecedented public clamour for his restoration to the England squad, Robinson recalled him for this year's Six Nations. The coach would go no further, however. Try as he might, Dallaglio could not force a place in the starting line-up.

He replaced Corry during the victory over Wales at Twickenham, setting a crown on his efforts by scoring a try. The two played together for a spell in Rome before Dallaglio was sent on in Corry's stead a second time as England subsided against the Scots at Murrayfield. Robinson immediately disappeared under an avalanche of criticism as Corry's supporters accused him of undermining the captain's authority. Whichever way the coach tried to play his difficult hand, he found himself trumped by events.

Any lingering doubts over Dallaglio's belief in his own candidacy for a place in next year's World Cup squad evaporated yesterday, so Robinson now has a decision to make. Is the Wasps captain a live contender for duty in France, or is it time to fast-track James Forrester of Gloucester, nine years Dallagio's junior, as Corry's official understudy?

The issue is confused by the disagreement between Robinson and Corry over the forthcoming summer trip. If Robinson sticks to his guns and leaves his captain behind, he will have to find himself a temporary skipper. Both Steve Thompson, of Northampton, and Steve Borthwick, of Bath, carry the burden of leadership at club level, but it would be stretching a point to suggest they know more about the demands of the job than a man who has inspired Wasps to three consecutive Premiership titles and a Heineken Cup victory into the bargain.

Ian McGeechan, the Wasps director of rugby, described his captain yesterday as "a giant of the English and world games".

For his part, Dallaglio acknowledged his delight at maintaining his honourable status as a one-club player. "It means I'll finish my career where I started it," said the No 8, who made his senior debut in 1993.