Will Carling
Birth nameWilliam David Charles Carling
Date of birth (1965-12-12) 12 December 1965 (age 58)
Place of birthBradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England
Height1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Weight90 kg (198 lb; 14 st 2 lb)
SchoolSedbergh School
UniversityUniversity of Durham
Rugby union career
Position(s) Centre
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
1987–2000 Harlequins ()
International career
Years Team Apps (Points)
British Lions

William David Charles Carling OBE (born 12 December 1965) is an English former rugby union player.[1] He was England's youngest captain, aged 22, and won 72 caps from 1988 to 1996, captaining England 59 times. Under his captaincy, England won Five Nations Grand Slam in 1991, 1992 and 1995, and reached the 1991 World Cup final.

He played for Rosslyn Park and Harlequins at club level. In the 1992 New Year Honours, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).[2]

Since retiring, Carling has pursued interests including corporate speaking and punditry. In 2018 he joined the England coaching staff of Eddie Jones as a leadership mentor.[3]

Early life

The son of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Carling, an officer in the Royal Regiment of Wales, Carling was born in Bradford-on-Avon[1] and educated at Terra Nova School in Cheshire and then Sedbergh School, on an army scholarship.[4][a] He disliked being sent to prep school but showed an aptitude for rugby and played above his age group, arriving at Sedbergh – a "big rugby school" – with a reputation as a serious talent.[6]

On 2 April 1983 he made his debut for England Schools in a 16–0 victory over Ireland.[7] He narrowly missed out on a junior Grand Slam, with an England Schools side that included Kevin Simms, Victor Ubogu and Carling's future Durham and Harlequins teammate Andy Mullins, losing 13–12 to Wales.[8]


Having decided for a career in the British Army like his father, Carling – after a gap year – took an in-service degree in Psychology at Durham University.[1][9] This meant the "occasional weekend exercise", but otherwise military activities were rather limited.[9] He was an undergraduate student at Hatfield College, Durham (which had built a strong sporting reputation post-war), and was reunited with Mullins.[9] Carling did not enjoy the transition from school to university rugby, and claimed to have "stagnated" in terms of development.[10] Playing his first year at fullback, he had to accept a style of rugby that offered less creative freedom than he was used to.

"Caution was the watchword and it was not something I was used to. Instead of running everything, as you are encouraged to do in the idealistic world of schoolboy rugby, I was coached to kick, to play safety-first rugby."[10]

Carling strongly considered giving up rugby after failing to enjoy his first year on the pitch at Durham, but found himself rejuvenated during an old boys' match at Sedbergh; and this reignited a desire to succeed in the sport.[10] By his own admission did not take his studies seriously and was often absent for lectures. He left with an ordinary pass degree in 1988.[9] In January that year, Carling, still an undergraduate, made his debut for England against France at the Parc des Princes.[4] In May he was invited to tour with England abroad, but the start date clashed with his final exams. Consequently, he took his exams two days early, and to safeguard examination security, was driven straight to Newcastle Airport.[11]

Despite a less than stellar academic record, Carling had the opportunity to continue his education at the University of Cambridge and represent Cambridge University R.U.F.C., who had already recruited his Durham colleague Chris Oti.[12] However, Carling did not follow up the invitation, because he did not feel he would have got in on merit.[12]


Early career, 1987–1991

The England rugby team were in a period of transition following failure at the 1987 Rugby World Cup. There was a new manager, Geoff Cooke, and a new coach, Roger Uttley, replacing Mike Weston and Martin Green. England's recent record was one of considerable underachievement, described by one writer as a "sprawling desert of failure, stretching back as far as 1963" — they had only won a single Five Nations Championship since then, in 1980.[13] The new season offered good prospects for younger players, as league rugby was introduced for the first time, establishing a "proper system which rewarded progress"; Divisional Championships, which brought the best club players into regional teams, would not necessarily be the main method of selection in future.[14]

In February 1987 Carling made his debut for Harlequins against Metropolitan Police.[15] He soon played for England B in a 22–9 win over France B.[16] Carling sensed he had a chance of earning his first senior England cap when Kevin Simms, a former England Schoolboys teammate, was selected to play against Romania. As Carling knew the strengths and weaknesses of Simms and "wasn't in awe of him", expectation that he might match this achievement grew.[17]

"...Simmsy was one of us. He unpicked the myth and also provided the motivation. If he could do it, then so could I. Maybe those blokes in the England side weren't so special after all."[17]

Around Christmas 1987 Carling took part in an England trial for the upcoming Five Nations Championship.[17] Initially he and Simms were set to be part of a junior team set to test more experienced "probables" including Simon Halliday of Bath and John Buckton of Saracens; but both Halliday and Buckton pulled hamstrings, which saw Carling and Simms "bumped up". The team list was officially published the following Monday, and after some uncertainty, Carling realised he'd earned his first callup when a university friend phoned to congratulate him.[17] His debut against France on 16 January was a defeat, with England losing 10-9 in Paris due to a late French score. Later comparing the atmosphere in the dressing room afterwards to a "morgue", Carling was nonetheless pleased with his own performance.[18] Carling started the remaining games against Wales, Scotland and Ireland, with England winning the latter two to finish third in that years Five Nations Championship.[19][20]

Though still expected to pursue a military career, Carling abandoned these plans.[4] He has stated that, contrary to media suggestions, he was never "fully commissioned".[4] By Carling's own account, he was due to attend Sandhurst for the full officer training course in August 1988, but his status as an England international meant the army would not be able to accommodate his rugby ambitions. As a result, Carling opted to "buy himself out" of the army for £8,000.[18][b] As rugby was an amateur game at this point, he accepted an executive post with Mobil Oil to make ends meet.[16]


Under Carling England started to challenge and beat the established rugby union powers such as New Zealand and Australia, and their success helped to make rugby union a more popular sport in England. English victories over New Zealand and South Africa in 1993 were perhaps the peak of England's performance under Carling.

Carling's career included the 1993 British Lions tour to New Zealand. He underachieved on that tour, a pattern attributed by coach Ian McGeechan and manager Geoff Cooke as at least partly due to his failing to secure the captaincy (this instead going to Gavin Hastings of Scotland) but also due in large part to the ascendency in the centre of both Jeremy Guscott and Scott Gibbs of Wales. McGeechan and Cooke disclosed that Carling came close to voluntarily withdrawing from the squad; he did however recover his test place and played a notable role in the third test. McGeechan commented in his autobiography that Carling's failure to rise to the occasion as a Lion (in contrast to Guscott) may be seen by some as the difference between his legacy as a good player and a great player.

Also in 1993, he became the second captain after John Pullin to lead and beat all of the “Big Three” Southern Hemisphere sides: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, after beating the All Blacks 15–9. He had earlier led England to wins against Australia in November 1988, and South Africa in November 1992. As captain, he had 2 wins against Australia, 1 against New Zealand, and 2 against South Africa.

1995 World Cup

In the run-up to the 1995 World Cup, after England returned to form with their third Grand Slam in five years, Carling described the Rugby Football Union general committee as "57 old farts" which led to his sacking as captain. The incident had been provoked by administrator Dudley Wood's comments about England players' alleged desire to cheat by breaking the amateur ethic. He was however quickly reinstated due to public pressure and following a public apology was able to go to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. After a slow start, England found form and subsequently won all their group games knocking out Australia in the quarter-final 25–22, thanks to a last-minute drop-goal from Rob Andrew. They were well beaten by New Zealand in the semi-final, largely thanks to four tries from Jonah Lomu. Although Carling himself scored two tries towards the end of that game, and set up two more for Rory Underwood, England lost 45–29. The subsequent loss in the third place play-off, against France, was England's first loss to the French in seven years.

Following his resignation from the England captaincy, he continued to be selected as an outside centre, usually with Guscott or Phil de Glanville; the latter succeeded him as captain.

Life after rugby

After his rugby career ended he became a TV pundit on rugby union. He has also worked as a motivational speaker[22] and in 2001 founded Will Carling Management Ltd, a corporate hospitality company[23][24] which is also involved in the rugby social networking website 'Rucku'.[25]

George Gregan, an Australian player, equalled Carling's then world record 59 matches as captain in the 2007 Rugby World Cup against Fiji. In the 2009 Tri Nations Series, Springbok John Smit also equalled and then beat Carling's record in tests between New Zealand in Bloemfontein, and Durban respectively. Brian O'Driscoll Ireland/Lions 2009 and 2010, and Richie McCaw broke his record in 2011.

Personal life

Carling is married to his second wife Lisa, the ex-wife of David Cooke. The couple have two children. Carling has an older son with former partner Ali Cockayne. Carling was previously married to the television presenter Julia Carling (née Smith) from 1994 to 1996. Prior to their divorce, he was romantically linked by some members of the press with Diana, Princess of Wales, the then-wife of Prince Charles.[26][27][28] Carling has denied any such relationship.[29]

Carling, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was an infant and later died from the disease, is a patron of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer.[30]


In August 2014, Carling was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[31]

Matches as captain

No. Date Opposition Venue Score Status Notes
1 5 November  Australia Twickenham, London 28–19 Test Match
2 4 February  Scotland Twickenham, London 12–12 1989 Five Nations
3 18 February  Ireland Lansdowne Road, Dublin 16–3
4 4 March  France Twickenham, London 11–0 1 Try
5 18 March  Wales Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff 9–12
6 4 November  Fiji Twickenham, London 58–23 Test Match
7 20 January  Ireland Twickenham, London 23–0 1990 Five Nations
8 3 February  France Parc des Princes, Paris 26–7 1 Try
9 17 February  Wales Twickenham, London 34–6 1 Try
10 17 March  Scotland Murrayfield, Edinburgh 7–13
11 28 July  Argentina Vélez Sársfield, Buenos Aires 25–12 Argentina Series
12 4 August Vélez Sársfield, Buenos Aires 13–15
13 3 November  Argentina Twickenham, London 51–0 Test Match
14 19 January  Wales Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff 25–6 1991 Five Nations
15 16 February  Scotland Twickenham, London 21–12
16 2 March  Ireland Lansdowne Road, Dublin 16–7
17 16 March  France Twickenham, London 21–19
18 20 July  Fiji National Stadium, Suva 28–12 Test Match
19 27 July  Australia Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney 15–40 Test Match
20 3 October  New Zealand Twickenham, London 12–18 1991 Rugby World Cup
21 8 October  Italy Twickenham, London 36–6
22 11 October  United States Twickenham, London 37–9 1 Try
23 19 October  France Parc des Princes, Paris 19–10 1 Try
24 26 October  Scotland Murrayfield, Edinburgh 9–6
25 2 November  Australia Twickenham, London 6–12 1991 Rugby World Cup Final
26 18 January  Scotland Murrayfield, Edinburgh 25–7 1992 Five Nations
27 1 February  Ireland Twickenham, London 38–9
28 15 February  France Parc des Princes, Paris 31–13
29 7 March  Wales Twickenham, London 24–0 1 Try
30 17 October  Canada Wembley Stadium, London 26–13 Test Match
31 14 November  South Africa Twickenham, London 33–16 Test Match 1 Try
32 16 January  France Twickenham, London 16–15 1993 Five Nations
33 9 February  Wales Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff 9–10
34 6 March  Scotland Twickenham, London 26–12
35 20 March  Ireland Lansdowne Road, Dublin 3–17
36 27 November  New Zealand Twickenham, London 15–9 Test Match
37 5 February  Scotland Murrayfield, Edinburgh 15–14 1994 Five Nations
38 19 February  Ireland Twickenham, London 12–13
39 5 March  France Parc des Princes, Paris 18–14
40 19 March  Wales Twickenham, London 15–8
41 4 June  South Africa Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria 32–15 South Africa Series
42 11 June Newlands, Cape Town 9–27
43 12 November  Romania Twickenham, London 54–3 Test Match 1 Try
44 10 December  Canada Twickenham, London 60–9 Test Match
45 21 January  Ireland Lansdowne Road, Dublin 20–8 1995 Five Nations 1 Try
46 4 February  France Twickenham, London 31–10
47 18 February  Wales Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff 23–9
48 18 March  Scotland Twickenham, London 24–12
49 27 May  Argentina Kings Park Stadium, Durban 24–18 1995 Rugby World Cup
50 4 June  Western Samoa Kings Park Stadium, Durban 44–22
51 11 June  Australia Newlands, Cape Town 25–22
52 18 June  New Zealand Newlands, Cape Town 29–45 2 Tries
53 22 June  France Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria 9–19
54 18 November  South Africa Twickenham, London 14–24 Test Match
55 16 December  Western Samoa Twickenham, London 27–9 Test Match
56 20 January  France Parc des Princes, Paris 12–15 1996 Five Nations
57 3 February  Wales Twickenham, London 21–15
58 2 March  Scotland Murrayfield, Edinburgh 18–9
59 16 March  Ireland Twickenham, London 28–15

Honours as captain

Rugby World Cup

Five Nations Championship

Calcutta Cup

Millennium Trophy


In 2021, World Rugby inducted Carling into its World Rugby Hall of Fame, alongside Osea Kolinisau, Humphrey Kayange, Huriana Manuel, Cheryl McAfee and Jim Telfer.[32]


  1. ^ In his autobiography Carling states this was actually an art scholarship, "worth all of £45", having discovered a passion for the subject at Terra Nova School[5]
  2. ^ This is Carling's version of events. It has also been reported that he simply resigned his commission when he returned from the tour to Australia and Fiji[21]


  1. ^ a b c Anon (2007). "Carling, William David Charles". Who's Who (online Oxford University Press ed.). Oxford: A & C Black. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U10174. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ United Kingdom list: "No. 52767". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1991. p. 10.
  3. ^ Kitson, Robert (29 October 2018). "Former captain Will Carling to bring leadership qualities to England". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d Thomas, Simon (19 February 2021). "Will Carling at 55, the man once 'universally hated' by the Welsh public". WalesOnline. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  5. ^ Carling, Will (1999). Will Carling : My Autobiography (Updated ed.). London: Coronet. p. 14. ISBN 0340696591.
  6. ^ McRae, Donald (22 June 2020). "Will Carling: 'I didn't open the curtains for a year, I was so battered'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  7. ^ Bills, Peter (1994). Carling: A Man Apart. London: H F. & G. Witherby. p. 72.
  8. ^ Bills, 1994, p. 73
  9. ^ a b c d Bills, 1994, pp. 81–83
  10. ^ a b c Carling, 1999, pp. 21–22
  11. ^ Moyes, Arthur (2007). Be The Best You Can Be: A History of Sport in Hatfield College, Durham University. Durham: Hatfield Trust. p. 150.
  12. ^ a b Bills, p. 86
  13. ^ Bills, pp. 108–109
  14. ^ Bills, p. 110
  15. ^ Llewellyn, David (10 January 1998). "Rugby Union: Carling retires - reluctantly and with a hint of rancour". The Independent. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  16. ^ a b "End nears for man Scots loved to hate". HeraldScotland. 7 January 1998. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  17. ^ a b c d Carling, 1999, pp. 30–31
  18. ^ a b Carling, 1999, pp. 35–37
  19. ^ "Five Nations 1988". ESPNscrum. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  20. ^ "Five Nations 1988 points table". ESPNscrum. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  21. ^ Maule, Raymond (1992). The Complete Who's Who of England Rugby Union Internationals. Derby: Breedon Books. p. 33. ISBN 9781873626108.
  22. ^ "Now You're Talking" Archived 4 September 2012 at archive.today. Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  23. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  24. ^ Growing Business Online "Will Carling", 20 June 2005. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  25. ^ "Total Edge Network press release on Response Resource", 2 September 2008. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  26. ^ O'Grady, Sean (1 July 2021). "What would Princess Diana's life had been like if she had lived?". The Independent. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  27. ^ CBS Worldwide "Diana's secret love" CBS News, 21 April 2004. Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  28. ^ Time.com "Sweep it under the rugger" Time, 25 March 1996. Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  29. ^ Ellam.D "Will Carling: my life as the cad" Sunday Mirror, 26 September 2004. Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  30. ^ "Will Carling to gain youthful stepmother". The Daily Telegraph. 13 August 2008.
  31. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". The Guardian. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  32. ^ "Six legends to be inducted into World Rugby Hall of Fame". World Rugby. Retrieved 27 October 2021.
Sporting positions Preceded byRichard HardingRob AndrewRob Andrew English National Rugby Union Captain November 1988 – March 1989November 1989 – May 1995June 1995 – March 1996 Succeeded byRob AndrewRob AndrewPhil de Glanville