Carling can teach these modern players so much
THE appointment of Will Carling as a leadership mentor/guru to Owen Farrell, Dylan Hartley and England’s senior players raised a few eyebrows and indeed sparked off a deal of criticism. He was, according to some, overrated as a skipper and stories of his leadership virtues are a myth
The main criticism always thrown at Carling is that England were so strong during his time that almost anybody could have captained them to Five Nations titles and Grand Slams.
Really? Many of the players involved during Carling’s first two Grand Slam teams in 1991 and 1992 were also around in the mid 80s and at the 1987 World Cup when England, to use the technical term, were a complete shower. There were nine England captains between Bill Beaumont retiring in 1982 and Carling taking over in 1988 and none of them covered themselves in glory
England were a difficult team to captain. There was a drinking culture and the squad was often divided along partisan club lines.
You had a clutch of policemen used to being in charge, talented but independent minded orthopaedic surgeons; voluble lawyers who sometimes seemed to enjoy arguments as much the actual rugby; city slickers; south London hard cases who liked to get things ‘sorted’; RAF top guns; Varsity chaps – some bolshie, some ‘establishment’ who liked to think they always knew best – and West country legends who were revered Kings of the Castle down their way.
Some thought they should either have been the captain in the past or could certainly do a job better than the young whippersnapper with the skipper’s armband.
But that’s the whole point. Carling was none of the above and belonged to none of the cliques who, up to his arrival on the scene, had been making a dog’s dinner of things for England. He wasn’t contaminated by failure like they were. Although he admired them all hugely as players, he owed no allegiance to them, that was given totally to his coach and kingmaker Geoff Cooke.
Carling, studying psychology at Durham University while also being trained as an Army officer, was both naive and clever. There was no rugby figure in the world who could have marched into that England dressing room and cracked the whip, certainly not at the age of 22.
So he boxed clever and tended towards self deprecation. At all times he paid due deference to the old lags, rather in the way that most Tour de France winners heap gushing praise on their faithful colleagues. It was all down to them. Anybody could captain England
Well, if it was that easy, why had England won only one Grand Slam since 1957 when Carling took over?
Carling let the big boys think they were still in charge some of the time and, yes, that occasionally backfired, as when he let Brian Moore talk him out of a simple three points at Murrayfield in 1990 when Mooro was convinced the England pack had Scotland on toast at a scrum five. They didn’t.
Mediator, faciliator, peacemaker...the England captain was also front of house. Very few fancied doing that. He adorned magazine front pages and – later in his career – took lorryloads of media flak regarding his personal life.
He happily took on the old farts and fought for his team to be properly treated – much harder for the captain than a trooper – and let’s not forget he was also a very fine international centre for most of his career. If ever you get a chance watch again the second half of that 1995 World Cup semi-final when England were facing complete oblivion and disgrace. It was Carling who led the fight back to semi-respectability.
He wasn’t perfect but three Grand Slams – and it could have been four – a losing World Cup Final and a 75 per cent success rate during his 59 Tests in charge. That is some palmares.
A tabloid ‘pin up’’ and then ‘bad boy’, a trenchant opposer of old fartism. An individual who knew great success and some serious personal lows. An individual who since his retirement 20 years ago has simply got on living his life and not replaying old glories – no gloating about ‘his England’ and scarcely a trinket or momento on display at his home.
Oh yes, I would say there is plenty Carling could impart to the modern generation if they are willing to listen.
Adulation: Will Carling leads England to the Grand Slam