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Saturday, 8 April, 2000, 22:13 GMT 23:13 UK
Rugby's forgotten hero
Will Carling led England to three Grand Slams
Will Carling's career captured the public's imagination more than any other player of his generation.

On the pitch, he led England out of the doldrums to become World Cup finalists and regular Five Nations champions. Off it, he courted massive controversy.

He was sacked as England captain for criticising the English Rugby Union and a much-publicised split with the mother of his young son splashed his name across every newspaper in the land.

England were defeated in the 1991 World Cup final
His rugby credentials are unquestionable, however. Indeed, there can be little doubt surrounding his claim to a permanent place in Twickenham's hall of fame.

Plucked from obscurity as a 22-year-old novice by then England supremo Geoff Cooke, Carling made his debut as England captain against Australia at Twickenham in 1988.

It represented a bold choice by Cooke - if not a calculated gamble - but Carling's impact was immediate.

England won the game 28-19, launching an era of unprecedented success when the new skipper oversaw a World Cup final appearance and back-to-back Five Nations Grand Slams.

No other England leader, apart from Wavell Wakefield in the 1920s, had achieved the feat, a measure of Carling's stature.

Continued success

A further Grand Slam followed in 1995 and there was a farewell Triple Crown a season later when he stepped down after an eventful eight-year stint as captain, which produced remarkable figures of 44 wins from 59 Tests.

Carling fact-file
1988: Becomes youngest English captain in 57 years
1991: Leads England to first Grand Slam for 11 years. Skippers England to World Cup final.
1992: Captains England to second successive Grand Slam
1994: Breaks world record for Test captaincy against Scotland at Murrayfield.
1995: Captains England to his Grand Slam. Sacked as captain.
1996: Reappointed captain
1997: Wins 72nd and last cap for England during Five Nations campaign
Critics may argue that Carling was lucky. Undoubtedly he presided over a famously strong England outfit, that included world-class operators Jeremy Guscott, Rory Underwood, Rob Andrew and Dean Richards to name but a few.

His leadership ability, however, was consistently astute and frequently innovative.

After representing the Barbarians and launching a club career with Harlequins in 1987, Carling made his international debut against France the following season before being appointed captain just a few months later.

He succeeded Bristol scrum-half Richard Harding in the top job, but he was to experience bitter disappointment before enjoying success at the highest level.

Shin splints forced him to miss the 1989 British Lions tour in Australia and less than a year later Scotland stole the Grand Slam from under England's nose with an unforgettable 13-7 triumph at Murrayfield.

But England and Carling made amends in 1991, clinching a first Grand Slam since Bill Beaumont's side had achieved it 11 years earlier, before repeating the feat and recording a 1992 clean sweep.

Sandwiched between those notable campaigns was the 1991 World Cup when England, despite losing their opening match against New Zealand, reached the Twickenham final, losing a disappointing match 12-6.

Trouble looms

Four years later, however, his tenure had turned sour. On the eve of the Pilkington Cup final between Bath and Wasps, the RFU announced he had been sacked as England captain.

It came as no great surprise. Carling had described the Rugby Football Union committee as "57 old farts" during a TV internview - and he was made to pay.

Comments from then RFU president Denis Easby and secretary Dudley Wood confirmed Twickenham's hard-line stance, but two days later rugby's new bad-boy was reinstated.

Carling was sacked - and later reinstated - after criticing the RFU
A combination of a public apology to the RFU and the fact that no other England World Cup-bound player was prepared to replace him, saw him regain the role in a embarrassing U-turn.

With hindsight, given the humiliation inflicted on England by New Zealand superstar Jonah Lomu, Carling may have wished he had stayed at home after all.

England fell one hurdle earlier than in 1991 and Carling knew his chance of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup had gone forever.

The following March he stepped down as captain, finishing with yet another Five Nations Triple Crown, but he continued to warrant selection in England's midfield until retiring from international rugby a year later.

An acrimonious relationship with former Harlequins' coach Andy Keast led to a disillusioned Carling quitting The Stoop shortly afterwards as things began to turn sour.

However, 13 months after walking out on rugby, Keast's successors - New Zealand All Blacks John Gallagher and Zinzan Brooke - persuaded him to return.

Carling was no longer an England hero, though, and his complicated private life saw him drop several places in the popularity stakes.

As a result, his money-spinning testimonial season - highlighted by a lucrative match at Wembley - fell apart while he ran the gauntlet of public displeasure.

He ended his career out of the spotlight and the side at Harlequins. But he remains English rugby's most famous face and name.

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