>Adam Hathaway has a look at Eddie Jones’ most recent appointment to the England back room staff, and applauds it, and raises a glass to a real hero
Eddie Jones has pulled a few rabbits out of the hat in his time as England coach but the Aussie magician outdid himself last week when he welcomed Will Carling into the fold at their training base in Bagshot.
Talk about doing a Paul Daniels, we didn’t see that one coming, but it might be a runner although some of the current players might want to start hitting Google soon to find out who this fellow is.
When they do hit Google after hours of mindless analysis, playing Fortnite and guzzling protein shakes they will find out that Carling is the real deal. He is England’s second greatest captain and he had to take a nearly as much heat as the King of the rugby Jungle, Martin Johnson.
Been there, front and back page, done that, got the T-shirt.
His heroics are even on YouTube.
Carling was a young skipper, back in the day, and a few Grand Slams in the bin, the current England team should be hanging on his every word.
He has been around the block, in life and in rugby, so if any young players in hailing distance of the England team want a bit of advice, they should get the old shell-like out.
Here’s the contract.
Carling has been employed, for two days a week for the autumn series, as a leadership mentor and, as it did, 30 years ago when he was appointed captain, his new job has divided opinion.
Some former team mates have said the centre was over rated as a leader, some have said he was brilliant, and some have sat on the fence. As a centre he was brilliant.
From a personal point of view, we have always found Carling to be a good bloke and not the chinless wonder posh boy he was portrayed as when he was in his playing heyday.
And he is most definitely not the arrogant England captain who was a hate figure for most opposing nations during his time in the post.
In the glory days, when the News of the World was still the world’s biggest selling newspaper with an expenses account to match, RugbySpy had the privilege of ghosting Carling’s column for the Sunday paper.
We would arrange a time to speak and Carling would hold court on all things rugby over the blower.
And he was good value.
He was a big name, even bigger because of his brush with celebrity, big news and he still is even all these years despite the fact he has stuck to the side roads in terms of rugby publicity in the last few years.
But he really does give a stuff about English rugby, and maybe Eddie has struck gold with this appointment.
And here is one reason why.
In 2007, we hacks were in Marseille for England’s World Cup quarter-final against Australia. The expectation was that the Wallabies would do a number on England and we would have a couple of weeks with little copy to file, some massive dinners, for the semi-finals and final, before heading back to Blighty.
Gloriously it was an afternoon kick-off, as opposed to the midnight aberrations some tournaments inflict on us, and gloriously an Andrew Sheridan and Jonny Wilkinson-inspired England won 12-10.
RugbySpy called Carling to get his views on the game and England’s march to Paris and, we are not breaking any confidences here, he could barely conceal his excitement.
It was great copy and once the sub-editors got to work it was Wallabies stuffed and all sorts and it gave this observer that Carling really does give a toss about the English game.
Younger readers may not be familiar with Carling’s work but he skippered England 59 times after being named captain, aged just 22, by Geoff Cooke in 1988.
He won three Grand Slams as captain, in 1991, 1992 and 1995, and led England to the World Cup final in 1991. He also got sacked in 1995, then reinstated, and earned the admiration of many fans when he described the RFU committee bods as ’57 old farts’ when the debate about professionalism was raging.
Carling was ex-army, public school, Sedbergh in his case, and had all the rest of the baggage that some of the hairy back-sided forwards of that era did not appreciate but he could play all right and he could lead.
At the start he didn’t help himself though, and he has admitted.
After his debut in senior England colours, a 10-9 loss to the French at Parc des Princes, he apparently pitched up at the post-match function in Paris wearing a multi-coloured bow tie and you can imagine how that went down in some quarters.
Carling was a fancy Dan upstart, according to some, but Cooke made him captain shortly afterwards and it was a master stroke.
Some aspiring skippers might fancy their chances of leading a team that had a pack including Jason Leonard, Brian Moore, Dean Richards, Mike Teague, Peter Winterbottom and Paul Ackford. They were, mostly, hard-nosed amateurs back in those days and hard men and not the sort of blokes to suffer fools gladly – but Carling pulled it off.
Being a back probably didn’t help. As he wrote in his autobiography ‘Forwards are different animals, products of a ferociously harsh, competitive environment. Each position is shrouded in mystery defined by a strange set of rules and governed by a separate code of ethics.”
He added: “I was at a disadvantage amongst the forwards on two counts. All of them were older and more experienced than I was and I was totally in awe of them.”
In other words, don’t mess about with the big boys.
But despite having one hand held behind his back, as the pack tried to pour beer down his throat, Carling helped to produce the second greatest England team in living memory.
Carling has recounted the first time he addressed the team ahead of the Australia game in 1988, which England won 28-19.
It was Carling’s eighth Test match as a player, and his first as captain, and he left the field to a standing ovation.
There is one caveat for when Carling goes into address the England team this week.
A few years ago Stuart Lancaster, the-then England head coach, got one of his heroes to come in and talk to the squad ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
He had asked Winterbottom, rightly regarded as one of the finest, and hardest, back row forwards England have ever produced to speak to the squad.
One half-witted England player asked ‘Who the F*** is this’, as the man who won more England and British and Irish Lions caps than this geezer could ever dream of was on parade.
This lot could do a lot worse than listen to Carling.
If you haven’t started shaving, Google him.
One of rugby’s greatest heroes was on parade in Cardiff on Saturday ahead of the Scotland game against Wales.
Doddie Weir strode onto the pitch despite being stricken by motor neurone disease to present a cup named after him.
Weir would never tell you that he was the greatest player in the world, but by God he is a good bloke and a brave man.
The former Scotland forward has raged against the lessening of his powers, and ultimately and all too soon, his grip on life brilliantly.
He knows what is coming and he is taking it head on.
He had told the trophy makers, before Saturday’s game, that they needed to make a cup with big ears, to match his.
If the trophy makers had to make a cup with the spirit of the man it was named after they would have run out of raw materials.
Weir was invalided out of the 1997 British & Irish Lions tour after being savagely attacked in a provincial game but he is still having a crack.
He rampaged over the rugby fields of the world before falling victim to this brutal disease.
But he is brilliantly raising funds for this ridiculous illness that could catch anyone unawares. He is worth it and the cause is worth it.
What a man.