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WARRIOR AMBASSADOR STALWART PLAYER SUPERMAN; One-off Dallaglio was all of these for England, the Lions and, most of all, his beloved Wasps ENGLAND RUGBY LEGEND PREPARES FOR THE FINAL MATCH OF HIS CAREER.

Byline: BY ALEX SPINK Rugby Correspondent

IT began with a crisis meeting in the middle of a north London housing estate and will end tomorrow at Twickenham in front of a world record crowd.

A dozen years have passed since Lawrence Dallaglio was asked to rescue a Wasps club which had been pillaged by Sir John Hall's Newcastle in the first days of professionalism.

Twelve years in which the Londoners have not just survived but done a whole lot of pillaging of their own - four league titles, three European crowns and three English cups.

Fittingly, the biggest crowd ever to watch a club rugby match will bid farewell to Dallaglio when 82,000 attend the Guinness Premiership Grand Final between Wasps and Leicester.

All present will remember his World Cup-winning heroics in 2003. Many will recount a good number of his 85 England caps. But few will recall the day the legend was born.

One who does only too well is Rob Andrew, the England star turned RFU elite rugby director whose move to Tyneside launched the Dallaglio era.

"Sir John had signed myself, Steve Bates and Dean Ryan who was club captain," said Andrew. "As we played eight, nine and 10 and had all captained Wasps it rather ripped the heart out of the club."

These were desperate times and Andrew admits: "I was concerned in the professional era where Wasps might end up."

A meeting was called at Sudbury, the ramshackle ground Wasps called home, at which the Toon-bound trio were effectively kicked out.

That same night, with concern thick in the air, Wasps handed the armband to a 23-year-old and challenged him to take them forward.

"I knew from the start it was the right decision," remembers teammate Joe Worsley. "And Lol wanted the job. Even at that age he was never backwards about coming forwards. In training he was always barking orders. And what he said made a lot of sense."

Within a year Wasps were English champions, within eight they had conquered Europe.

Every year for the past five they have landed a major trophy. "There is absolutely no question Lawrence has been the glue that has bonded the club together," said Andrew. "You can't overstate that."

There is no greater testimony to Dallaglio's leadership than Wasps' most recent game, the skipper's 338th for the club.

They led Bath narrowly in the semi-final when star half back Danny Cipriani suffered an horrific ankle injury which forced his foot at right angles to its proper position.

Three months earlier Arsenal striker Eduardo had suffered a similar injury which contributed to the Gunners' poor run of form.

Dallaglio called his players together in a huddle. What happened next left team boss Ian McGeechan beaming with pride.

"We could have gone into our shells or even fallen apart after Danny's injury," said McGeechan. "We could have started to feel sorry for ourselves.

"We didn't. The players' intensity actually rose. They knew they had to put it to one side and the next half hour was all about Wasps as a club.

"The ultimate team, for me, is one that adapts to the circumstances it has to play in. That is the legacy Lawrence has put in place."

And so to the final curtain and an admission from a man whose tears before the 2003 World Cup semi-final helped define England's triumph that tomorrow will be another such occasion.

"I've always felt it is very hard to separate rugby from the individual," Dallaglio said. "You get me, not just the rugby player.

"So emotion will undoubtedly play a part at some stage.

"I'm feeling pretty good at the minute. I've focused on hopefully getting us across the line. But then it will be time to finish.

"Because while my mind remains very sharp, unfortunately the body no longer works at the same pace."

CAPTION(S):

1990 18-year-old was a strong ball-carrier; 1993 Skills gained international recognition; 1994 Still looking youthful on England duty; 1995 Scores a diving try for England; 1996 No.8 became known for powerful runs; 1997 Soon became a lynch-pin for Red Rose; 1998 Never hid his passion for England; 1999 Showed he was natural leader; 2000 Hard tackle stops Wales' Neil Jenkins; 2001 In action for Lions in Australia; 2002 Getting to grips with Wilkinson; 2003 Delight at winning the World Cup; 2004 Dally is bloodied but unbowed; 2005 Wasps are Premiership champions; 2006 Still leads by example at Wasps; 2007 With Brown after World Cup Final loss; 2008 Aiming to finish with a flourish; STILL IN THE THICK OF IT Despite his advancing years, Dallaglio, 35, is always willing to get stuck in
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 30, 2008
Words:779
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