Will Carling is (of course) a legend of the rugby pitch, but he is also something more than that – an alumnus of Sedbergh School.
This means that, when it came to preparing this introduction, I could make a very happy trip to the School Archives to read about Will’s exploits as a child.
What surprised me, is that Will came to Sedbergh not necessarily as a rugby player but as a paint-brush-wielding Bohemian. He gained an Art Scholarship to the School in 1979.
But I guess it is fair to say, that his skills with the oval ball outstripped his skills with the canvas.
Here is what one of his coaches had to say when Will started playing for the 1st XV whilst he was still a Colt:
‘At the start of the season, we knew the captain’s role was going to be more important this season than most and W.D.C.Carling fulfilled and surpassed our wildest expectations in this respect. The maturity of his own play in the centre brought out the best in players around him and his place in the 1st XV, for the last match of the season, was richly deserved. Few at this stage can produce the awareness of space, angles and timing which singles out the exceptional. His was an exceptional performance.’
I think it is fair to say that we are pretty good at spotting talent early at Sedbergh. Here is another quote from the Archives, written in the 1983-1984 Season, when Will took over the Captaincy of the 1st XV:
‘W.D.C.Carling success with last year’s England Schools has already marked him out as something exceptional. At full back this year, he found room to express himself in a delightful and unselfish style which brought the very best out of his colleagues and turned a good side into another all-conquering one.’
And so, Will had reached the pinnacle of his rugby career.
Afterwards, it was the little of matter of rising through the ranks to captain Harlequins to numerous titles, as well as becoming the youngest ever England Captain, at the age of 22 in 1988.
For many of us in this room, and millions outside of it, the years of Will’s England Captaincy were ones of immense joy. Who can forget the three Grand Slams that the side won in that time? Or the World Cup Final of 1991?
There were many other achievements too – Five Nations titles and Triple Crowns – that Will can be extremely proud of, alongside his own 72 caps.
Will has hardly put his feet up since retiring from the game in 2000. His TV punditry shows he is as smart about the game off the pitch as he was on it. And, he has been successful in business too, working as a motivational speaker, and founding his own hospitality company.
I think the best testament to Will’s character, however, is the amount of time he has devoted to charity work. He has cycled and undergone other feats of endurance to raise money for many causes, including Muscular Dystrophy.
In fact – and I hope he does not mind me sharing this with you – but Will has very generously asked that some of tonight’s takings are donated to MENCAP in honour of Cressbrookian Matthew Coe and to Cosby Stephen Church in honour of Ian Mullins.
We are very grateful for that, as well as for you joining us this evening.