Softy who conceals a hard centre

RUGBY UNION: England have a new captain who leads by example.
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The Independent Online
They call him "Blouse" in the Bath dressing-room, a thoroughly disrespectful reference to the fact that Phil de Glanville is far too pretty, and gets injured far too often, for his own good. Things are about to change, though, for it will take a brave player, certainly one with limited international ambitions, to wield that nickname now.

Not that England's new rugby captain is short of a sense of humour, far from it. But engagingly approachable and popular as he may be, De Glanville is no one's idea of a soft touch. Indeed, Jack Rowell has probably chosen the toughest character of the lot to lead his charges through the minefield of the immediate post-Will Carling era.

Listen to John Hall, De Glanville's forerunner as Bath captain and now his team manager. "People ask if we still have the hard edge in our side, the old mean streak. I tell them to watch Phil. He does a fantastic job in terms of motivation and leadership and I speak as someone who has played under some of the most strong-minded people imaginable."

But De Glanville has never needed others to fight his corner for him. Unlike Carling, who's now notorious "old farts" jibe at members of the Rugby Football Union was less remarkable in terms of content than in the fact that it was voiced by so guarded a character, the new man has pungent views on all things rugby and is quite prepared to express them.

One of the players' representatives during the original falling-out between the leading clubs and the Rugby Football Union last spring, he has been a trenchant critic of the governing body's shambolic efforts to ease the transition to professionalism. He also stands up to be counted on the issue of violence; when half a dozen All Black boots ripped into his face during a brutal New Zealand tour match with the South-West Division at Redruth in 1993, he was not frightened to point the finger. Neither was he frightened to renew acquaintances with the self-same pack of forwards less than a month later.

Renowned as a brilliant defensive centre, both as an individual tackler and a back-line organiser, De Glanville arrived at Bath after winning an Oxford Blue in 1990. There were early injury setbacks - his nose still points at an angle dictated by the knee of club-mate Andy Robinson, with whom he collided during a divisional match in London - but there was no serious doubt that he would live up to his England Students and England Under-21 pedigree.

His full international debut came in 1992, when he replaced the injured Carling during the later stages of the 33-16 victory over South Africa at Twickenham. When his Bath midfield partner, Jeremy Guscott, was forced to sit out the whole of the 1993-94 campaign because of chronic groin trouble, he was given an extended run in the England team and came close to breaking up the Carling-Guscott axis once and for all during the World Cup last year.

Ironically, it was on the day that Carling was axed, temporarily as it turned out, from the national captaincy for his RFU outburst - Pilkington Cup final day, 1995 - that De Glanville underlined his obvious leadership credentials. Hall, his club skipper, was forced out through injury at the last minute and after Bath had stampeded all over Wasps at Twickenham, the stand-in leader sought out his bitterly disappointed colleague and fairly manhandled him up the steps to receive the trophy. It was the first and only time that anyone forced Hall to do anything.

Although De Glanville had been a clear candidate for the England captaincy from the moment Carling quit last March, it was not until mid-afternoon on Monday that Rowell phoned to offer him the job. The coach had delayed his announcement, not just because of the continuing strife on the political front but because he was worried that his choice would not recover from knee trouble in time to face Italy on 23 November. When De Glanville came through unscathed for Bath against, of all people, the Italian side Treviso on Saturday, there was no longer any need to prolong the suspense.

"Before making my decision, I spoke to the multi-cap players who were not candidates for the captaincy and they all leaned towards Phil," Rowell said yesterday. One thing is for sure; when those players need him to, their new captain will lean over backwards to protect their interests both on and off the field.