The modern face of rugby

close-up; Lawrence Dallaglio; New model professional is the perfect prototype for a sport facing up to life in a different era. Alex Spink reports

Lawrence Dallaglio has heard the sneers. All summer long European rugby has been denigrated by comparison with its sparkling southern hemisphere counterpart and now the Wasps captain has heard enough. This season, he insists, will see English rugby arrive at the party.

"Our problem in England is one of attitude, pure and simple" the heir- apparent to Will Carling said. "I have absolutely no doubt that we have the capacity to play the same game as we are seeing in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. We just have not got the right attitude yet within certain players."

Dallaglio, 24, knows what it takes to effect change following the events of last season when Sir John Hall's chequebook tore the heart out of Wasps. Or so it was thought. Dallaglio rolled up his sleeves, took charge and put the club back on its feet. Wasps duly finished fourth and qualified for Europe.

"English rugby's problem is that the club culture is so sporadic," he explained. "There are a number of teams that play negatively, a number who try to play positively but do not have the capacity to do so, and others in between. We have to have the confidence to change the entire attitude to get us all playing the same game. If we can do that at club level, by the time we join up at international level we will be playing the same game there as well."

Dallaglio insists that this is well within the nation's compass. He also insists that English rugby no longer has a choice in the matter if it is to survive as a professional sport. "With football having such a remarkable hold on this country's affections the competition for people's leisure pound is fierce," he said. "Rugby has to put its best foot forward and that means 10-9 scorelines have to be a thing of the past.

"We have one of the biggest rugby populations to draw upon in terms of talent, it's there for everyone to see. It just has to be used properly. Up to now it has not and everyone has got to take the blame for that - coaches and players alike. We all talk about it, but it's time for the talking to stop."

English rugby has been synonymous with talking in recent times, what with the Rugby Football Union tearing itself apart in the committee room and seemingly inflicting similar damage on the Five Nations' Championship. The common denominator in all the gabble has been its negativity and that has got under Dallaglio's skin. "Look, we have all raved about the Super 12 tournament, the Tri-Nations and the South Africa-New Zealand series but these matches have all been played according to the new regulations, so it is not fair to draw comparison with English rugby under the old laws," he said. "I have already said that we have to take a long hard look at our approach to the game but let's keep it in perspective.

"My first club game under the new laws finished 48-26. It was a breathless affair, hugely exciting to play in and I believe that provided a glimpse into what the forthcoming season holds. It is certainly what the future holds at Wasps, I'll tell you that now."

If any club has reason to anticipate the new campaign it is Wasps, financially secure, thanks to their purchase by Chris Wright, the multi-millionaire music mogul who owns Queen's Park Rangers football club and has merged the two sporting concerns into one, Loftus Road plc. Wasps will play 12 matches this season at QPR's 19,000 all-seater stadium in Shepherds Bush, Dallaglio's birthplace.

"Despite being a Chelsea fan I am thrilled by this move," Dallaglio said. "No one quite knows how rugby is going to take off as a product in this country in this new professional era so no one quite knows what sort of stadium to build for a rugby team. We could have developed our Sudbury ground into a 10,000 all-seater and in three or four years found that we needed 20-30,000. I reckon QPR is about right. We may not fill it every game but we are sowing the seeds for the future development of the sport."

Early impressions are optimistic. Dallaglio drools over QPR's playing surface, which puts him in mind of the Loftus Versfeld pitch in Pretoria, on which England dismantled South Africa in 1994. That it is a touch narrow, three and a half metres less that Wasps' Sudbury pitch, seems of little concern. "Our wingers will just have to improve their lines of running and I think Va'aiga Tuigamala and Paul Sampson should be just about capable of that."

One serious question remains as to how many supporters will follow Wasps to Shepherds Bush? Saracens rather hope they now have north London to themselves, but Dallaglio laughs at the suggestion. "We have not left north London at all," he stressed, "all we have done is increased our catchment area. There is an M40 corridor which is dying to watch running rugby and moving to Loftus Road gives an identity which perhaps we have lacked in the past. That can only enhance our support base.

"Attending really big games at Sudbury was not always a pleasant experience with the facilities that were available, so the chance of watching us at QPR will surely encourage those who before might possibly have stayed at home. The stadium is welcoming, we must do our bit to get the product right."

Dallaglio is bright and articulate. His is the face of modern day rugby, which explains his attraction to the management company James Grant Media Group, whose other clients include Anthea Turner, Andi Peters and Zoe Ball.

Yet he is well aware that not everyone has welcomed rugby's new profile. "Some people don't like what has happened; a lot don't like the pace at which it has happened; but I am afraid that, in order to survive, clubs have had to respond by amassing some sort of finance," Dallaglio said. "Clubs have had to go out and pay players what they perceive them to be worth. In certain cases that may well be over the odds for the short term and whether rugby can sustain the current development remains to be seen.

"Clearly, if the results are not as good on the pitch as the businessmen who have invested so heavily in the sport are used to off it, they won't keep throwing good money after something which is not working. That is rugby's challenge. There can be no more excuses."

A week at the rugby player's office

Monday

Morning: Weights session at Harrow school (10-12am)

Afternoon: Plan off-field commitments for week with manager

Tuesday

Morning: Discuss newspaper column with Sunday Express

Afternoon: Double session of club training at Sudbury (5-9pm)

Wednesday

Morning: Weights (10-12am)

Afternoon: England training (eight sessions before 23 Nov) or work out

Thursday

Morning: Off-field commitments

Afternoon: Double session of club training at Sudbury (5-9pm)

Friday

Morning: Rest

Afternoon: Rest or travel to away match

Saturday

Morning: Prepare for match

Afternoon: Match or training if playing Sunday

Evening: Newspaper column if an international weekend

Sunday

Morning: Free

Afternoon: Irregular appearances on BBC's Rugby Special

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