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Twickenham, London, 31 May



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Dallaglio is unlikely to go quietly into the night

By James Standley

He was the only man to play in every minute of England's victorious 2003 World Cup campaign, is the second-most capped Englishman of all time and once sung backing vocals for Tina Turner.

On Saturday former England captain Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio brought down the curtain on a remarkable career by leading Wasps to the 2008 Premiership title against champions Leicester at Twickenham.

The 35-year-old has been one of the defining figures in English rugby with a trophy cabinet to reflect his status from a career which started while professionalism was still a dirty word in union circles.

The number eight, who won 85 England caps, is one of only two players to have won both the World Cup and the Sevens World Cup, and also claimed a Grand Slam with England and went on three Lions tours.

With his beloved Wasps he has won two Heineken Cups and now five English titles.

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On and off the pitch, Dallaglio has been a compelling figure, with massive highs matched by desperate lows which might have derailed a less driven individual.

The death of his sister in the Marchioness river boat disaster was a tragedy many would have struggled to cope with, while losing the England captaincy following a tabloid sting was another difficult time for someone who appeared to have it all.

The Dallaglio who ran out at Twickenham in the last game of a 15-year Wasps career bore little resemblance to the coltish youngster who first came to national attention as part of England's 1993 World Cup Sevens-winning team.

Dallaglio Mark I was a pacy loose forward who was quick enough to make his Wasps debut as a replacement for Chris Oti on the wing the same year as the sevens victory.

He made his full England bow in 1995 - the year he was appointed Wasps captain - and toured with the Lions in 1997, the same year he was made England captain by the then plain Clive Woodward.

Two years later, Dallaglio was stripped of the captaincy after a newspaper sting saw him making claims of youthful drug experiences, which he subsequently denied.

Lawrence Dallaglio pictured in action for life long club Wasps
The most naturally gifted don't always make the best players. It's how you take your toughness into the arena that matters

Retiring great Lawrence Dallaglio

Woodward soon restored him to the side, however, and he was part of the unsuccessful 1999 World Cup campaign.

His second Lions tour, in 2001, was ended early on by a serious knee injury which required reconstructive surgery, but two years later came the finest moment in a glittering career.

The 6ft 3in Dallaglio was on the pitch for every second of the successful World Cup campaign in Australia and played a major role in Jason Robinson's try as England beat the hosts 20-17 in the final.

Once victorious captain Martin Johnson called it quits, Dallaglio briefly returned to the England captaincy, but in 2004 he retired from the international game.

Woodward persuaded him to join the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005 but it ended in disaster as he suffered a serious ankle injury against Bay of Plenty in the tour's first match.

It could have marked the end of his rugby career, but after months of intensive rehabilitation Dallaglio not only returned to action with Wasps but also came out of international retirement.

Despite serious questions about whether he was still worth his place in the squad he returned for the 2006 Six Nations and was part of the 2007 World Cup campaign which saw England go all the way to the final before ceding their crown to South Africa.

Dallaglio was used mainly off the bench in the latter part of his England career, but it was typical of the man that he left the international scene on the grandest stage.

With his jut-jawed defiance and on-going dialogue with referees, he could antagonise opposition fans as much as he was adored by England and Wasps supporters, but his assessment of himself is as up front as the way he plays the game.

It's his sheer determination and bloody-mindedness that separates him from your average rugby player

Wasps and England colleague Simon Shaw

"I don't think I'm particularly gifted as a player. I've used more of my life experiences than sporting ability to get where I've got," he said.

"But rugby's always been that kind of sport. The most naturally gifted don't always make the best players. It's how you take your toughness into the arena that matters."

Wasps and England team-mate Simon Shaw, who first played with Dallaglio when they were teenagers in age-group rugby, agrees that a mental edge was the key to Dallaglio's success.

"It is his sheer determination and bloody-mindedness to succeed and his belief in his own abilities and himself that separates him from your average rugby player," said Shaw, who has no doubt Dallaglio belongs among England's all-time greats.

"He's been captain, he's played for England in the biggest games and won the World Cup and Grand Slam, but he's also backed that up with winning medal after medal in the club game. There are very few players who can say they've done both."

The great and the good of the game are similarly happy to shower him with compliments.

Woodward described him as an "outstanding player" while his former Wasps boss Warren Gatland, now coach of Grand Slam winners Wales, said he is a "fantastic ambassador for English rugby".

Lawrence Dallaglio covers his face as he lies in agony after injuring his ankle while playing for the Lions in 2005
Dallaglio suffered a horrendous ankle injury on the 2005 Lions tour

Former rugby league great Shaun Edwards, now Dallaglio's coach at Wasps, said: "As a leader, Lawrence talks the talk and walks the walk".

And Wasps director of rugby Ian McGeechan said: "Lawrence has been a rock, no, the rock, upon which this club has been built."

Now he playing career is over, Dallaglio - who in addition to backing Tina Tuner also sang as a youngster at Andrew Lloyd Webber's wedding to Sarah Brightman - will become an associate director at Wasps and sees himself becoming involved in both the commercial and coaching side of the game in the future.

"If you're a person who likes to be challenged, as I do, you either discover the next challenge yourself or they simply find you. I reckon you'll still see me around," he said.

Back in 2005, Wasps ruined the farewell of Dallaglio's long-time England colleagues Martin Johnson and Neil Back by beating the Tigers in that year's Premiership final.

Dallaglio, true to form, was not going to let anyone ruin his farewell party.


see also
Wasps v Leicester
30 May 08 |  Rugby Union
Lawrence Dallaglio in pictures
22 May 08 |  Rugby Union
Johnson praises Dallaglio career
30 May 08 |  Rugby Union


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