Closing time but glass is still half full: Lawrence Dallaglio

Dallaglio will watch with interest as his old mucker Johnson takes England forwards – but he is happy in his roles as pundit, businessman and genial host
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The Independent Online

Lawrence Dallaglio, MBE and now OBE (he had a Royal appointment last Tuesday), likes the new law variations. "With the defensive line moved back I'd have been as happy as a pig in shit," he said. "If I was young again and with pace off the scrum I'd have had the freedom of the field."

He might have sounded a bit wistful about retiring from a game he graced from the age of eight to 36, but there's no chance of him exchanging his boots for a pair of slippers.

The great Wasps, England and Lions No 8 packed it in at the end of last season after leading his club, his only club, to the Guinness Premiership title with victory over Leicester at Twickenham in front of 84,000 people. "It was a wonderful finish. After that I had no right to play in another game. I went out on my terms. There are things you can't do at 36 that you could at 26."

But does he miss it? "Yes and no. I'm not in a state of frenzy at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and now I only train twice a week instead of every day. People don't realise how institutionalised players are in the professional game. You're handed a timetable at the beginning of the week and it's non-negotiable. There was no room for spontaneity. You couldn't even ask the boss for a couple of days off. Well, you could, but...

"Playing at the top level is very emotional. It pulls you in different directions. You're constantly challenging yourself but you don't own those jerseys. They're on loan to you until they're passed to the next generation. Now I have a blank piece of paper and I fill it in as I choose. I'm still competitive but I'm much more relaxed."

The paper isn't blank for long. Dallaglio is enjoying a pint or two of Greene King IPA at the appropriately named Red Lion in Teddington. It is the official beer of England Rugby and Dallaglio is the brewer's "ambassador". It's a nice fit in a quiver full of arrows.

He is the co-owner of the Havelock Tavern in Kensington. "It's a proper boozer," he says, "the sort of place to go and eat and drink and enjoy a chat. There's no screens. We don't want people gawking at the TV. It's not about me pulling pints behind the bar, but it's a very enjoyable thing to be involved in."

As is his Green Room at Twickenham, a corporate hospitality suite officially licensed by the RFU, where he, Austin "Twinkle Toes" Healey and Will Greenwood entertain clients who pay around £800 each for a "match-day experience". Up to 10,000 people add the caviar in luxury packages to England's bread-and-butter supporters.

"We're at the top end of the market," says Dallaglio. "It's a harder sell these days but we're doing well. If England's performances on the pitch are as successful we'll be very happy." The Green Room hosted 200 guests yester-day for the England-Australia match, including Sir Clive Woodward.

Dallaglio's MBE was earned as a member of Woodward's World Cup-winning team in 2003, and his OBE last week was for services to rugby. He received the honour from the Queen at Windsor Castle, the day after she had entertained the Wallaby squad. Dallaglio told the Queen, who is the RFU's patron, "I hope you reminded the Australians that they're going to be in for a tough time". She was, apparently, amused. Afterwards he took the family out, not for a pint but dinner at the French Horn in Sonning.

Last weekend Dallaglio made his debut as a BBC TV commentator. "My aim is to look at things a bit differently and give some insight. I know what's going on in the minds of the players and I want to pass that on to the audience." He also interviewed Martin Johnson for the BBC's Inside Sport.

"He wasn't particularly comfortable with that side of things as aplayer," Dallaglio said, "but as England manager he is very relaxed and very focused. I think he's enjoying the role immensely. He knows the enormity of the job in hand but he also knows what he wants. He made a canny decision in taking it on.

"It's an attractive job because the potential is there. I don't know where we are at the moment in the world rankings but there's room for improvement. I can understand why he's there. He has a fantastic opportunity to write a chapter or two in England's history. Who knows whether the timing is right or wrong, but it's clearly something he wanted to do and it's difficult to turn down an offer like that, because it might not come around again. If I'd been asked to do it, I wouldn't have turned it down. I'm very patriotic and I want what's best for England. To the victor the spoils."

The two go way back and almost certainly would have exchanged blows. Both were accustomed to spending time in the sin-bin. Johnson was the successful captain of the Lions tour to South Africa in 1997, an expedition that had a sensational postscript when the Wasp was caught in a tabloid honeytrap. Dallaglio lost the England captaincy to Johnson, who went on to gain an OBE and CBE.

"It wasn't a prerequisite in my career to play for England but I was honoured to do so, and even more honoured to become captain. I made some mistakes in losing it. When I first met Martin the England team was full of powerful characters. I didn't say a word for three years. I have a lot of respect for him. He's never taken a backward step in his life. Whenever Wasps played Leicester it meant a huge amount to me.

"Martin has a wonderful sense of humour, but it took me five years to find it. In the early days the England team culture was very different. The players from Leicester would be on one table and the Wasps boys on another. It wasn't until 2000 that it grew into Club England.

"We weren't always successful. There have been lots of ups and downs, but people tend not to talk about our losses.We've only won one World Cup and our record in the Six Nations hasn't been great. The England squad now has a lot of young players and they're at the beginning of their journey. This time next year they'll really experience what rugby has to offer. It can be a life-changing experience. I never played it forthe money."

The other day he had lunch with Danny Cipriani, a playerwho has much to offer rugby. "He's incredibly gifted and hard-working and he's also a handsome bastard. At the moment he has the respons-ibility of dragging the England team around, because not much is being said about the other players. In the next few weeks we'll see real leaders come through. It has to be coach-led and player-driven.

"Danny has only had a couple of seasons at Wasps, one at full-back, one at fly-half. He's doing very well and he sets high standards. He's getting back to his best, although we've seen so little of him we're not sure what his best is." Four months after suffering a fracture dislocation of the ankle, Cipriani was back in action. "It was a serious achievement," Dallaglio said. "When it happened I'm sure there wasn't a player in the country who wasn't cringing. As a result of that he's much more mature." Dallaglio knows what he is talking about. Ten days into the Lions tour of New Zealand three years ago, he suffered a fracture dislocation of the ankle and, guess what, he was back in four months.

Dallaglio is still at Wasps, working on the business side and helping them to find a new, bigger stadium, not far from Adams Park in High Wycombe. He is a born networker. "Business fascinates me and I can see why people get excited about it. One day I'd love to coach but I've only been retired for five months and I want to think a bit more clearly about what I want to do." He doesn't seem to have much time for thinking. He is establishing the Dallaglio Foundation to raise money for charity, something else he knows a thing or two about. With Damian Hopley, head of the Players' Association, and 30 others he recently cycled 1,000km across the Pyrenees to help raise £350,000 for the babies charity Bliss. "There were 35 mountain passes. It's made me look at the Tour de France in a whole new light."

With Johnson, he also took part in the Help for Heroes match at Twickenham which will contribute much-needed funds for improvements to the care and treatment of service personnel injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At last year's World Cup, Johnson's predecessor Brian Ashton preferred Nick Easter at No 8, and Dallaglio was ultra-critical of the England set-up in his autobiography. "I was a bit too frank and a bit too honest," he says, "but I didn't do it to sell the book. That was supposed to have been written three years earlier." He compared England's approach to that of a pub team. Perhaps he had the Red Lion or the Havelock Tavern in mind.

Life and times

Name: Lorenzo Bruno Nero Dallaglio OBE.

Born: 10 August 1972, Shepherd's Bush, London.

Vital statistics: 6ft 3in, 17st 9lb.

Position: Flanker/No 8.

: Del Boy.

Club career: A one-club man for Wasps, 1990-2008. Guinness Premiership winners '96–97, '02–03, '03–04, '04–05, '07–08; Anglo-Welsh Cup winners '98–99, '99–00, '05–06; Heineken Cup winners '03–04, '06–07; Challenge Cup winners '02–03. In a fairytale ending, Wasps won the 2008 Premiership final in front of a world record crowd for a club match.

National service: Won 85 caps for England from 1995-2007 – equal second most capped player with Rory Underwood – scoring 85 points. Six Nations champions in 1996, 2000, '01, '03. Toured three times with Lions. Named England captain in 1997 but resigned two years later after a sex and drugs tabloid honeytrap. Only member of squad to play every minute when England won 2003 World Cup. Final appearance as a substitute in 2007 World Cup final.

Fascinating facts: In 1985, as a 13-year-old King's House chorister, sang backing vocals on "We Don't Need Another Hero" by Tina Turner. Also sang at the wedding of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.