Will Carling backs Nick Mallett as possible England coach

Nick Mallett trains Italy
Mallett coached the Springboks to a record-equalling 17 successive Test wins

Will Carling thinks former Italy coach Nick Mallett is the leading contender to become England team manager should Martin Johnson leave the post.

Johnson's contract expires in December and may not be extended after a dismal World Cup both on and off the pitch.

"Mallett is my top choice, he would be extremely good," former England captain Carling told BBC Radio Five live.

The 55-year-old, who has also coached Stade Francais and South Africa, left Italy after the World Cup campaign.

The Azzurri defeated Russia and the United States in Pool C, but were comfortably beaten by Australia and Ireland in their other two matches.

The highlight of Mallett's time in charge of the team was a dramatic 22-21 victory over future World Cup finalists France in the Six Nations in March.

The 55-year-old ruled out applying for the performance director role at the Rugby Football Union in January, saying it was too far removed from coaching to interest him.

Carling believes Mallett's hunger to land the game's biggest prize gives him the edge over World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who has also left his role.

"Henry is very good, a very likeable guy, but he has just done it with his own country and I'm not sure he has the edge to do it," added Carling.

"I think that there a number of very talented coaches out there. There is Dave Ellis who coached the French defence which was been excellent, there is Jim Mallinder at Northampton.

"We need someone who needs to do it for the first time.

"Martin Johnson is an unbelievable player, an unbelievable captain and he was all about winning.

"He is a stubborn bugger which is one of his strengths as well and if he is going to be told who is going to be on his coaching team he may well say 'I'm not interested'. I'm not sure if he will put himself forward again anyway."