Chris Robshaw: "It's time to get results"
To clumsily paraphrase Harold Wilson, a year is a long time in international rugby. Just ask Chris Robshaw.
This time a mere 12 months ago, the Harlequins man watched from afar as English rugby stumbled through a post-World Cup crisis, with players falling over themselves to announce their retirement and a coach whose grip on the job seemed to have slipped.
Fast-forward 12 months, however, and the shiny new shirt England will sport when they take to the field against Fiji tomorrow is not the only difference down Twickenham way. Head coach Stuart Lancaster has rebuilt the national team, reinjecting a sense of pride and passion along the way – and Chris Robshaw is the man at the centre of his plans.
Having been picked by Lancaster to front his revolution, Robshaw led England to within a blade of grass of Six Nations glory before returning to his club side Harlequins to inspire them to their first ever Premiership title.
He then travelled to South Africa to captain England against the two-time world champions. Not a bad year, then – but Robshaw has never been one to rest on his laurels. With World Cup pools to be drawn in December, victories are the priority over the next four weeks – and the inspirational flanker is ready to lead from the front once more.
How has your year with England been?
“Busy! It’s been a great experience, and there are obviously a lot of highs and a lot we need to learn from. The good thing is we’re a young team, and we can look back and say we’ve all played a season of international rugby. We can take that experience forward to face the big four southern-hemisphere sides now – that’s exciting in its own right.“
How do you think the team handled playing in South Africa?
“I think a lot of us hadn’t played in that kind of atmosphere before – in particular at Ellis Park. The atmosphere was incredible and it probably blew us away a bit in the first 15-20 minutes, when we gave South Africa a lead. Once they led, they closed it out well, and that intensity and professionalism is something we can learn from. It was something we hadn’t experienced before, and it’s about taking all these little things and hopefully bringing them into our own game. We know we’re going to have to learn quickly, because we’ll need four different gameplans in the next four weekends – all these sides bring different threats.“
Happy with the outcome of the tour?
“It was good to finish with a draw, but we obviously went there to win a tour and we didn’t manage that. There are a huge amount of positives to take from it, which we can. Hopefully we can get a bit of revenge with our home crowd behind us.“
In the second Test in South Africa, the backs seemed to start being a bit more creative. Is that something we can look forward to from this side?
uu “We probably played it a bit safe at times in the Six Nations, because we were such a new team and it takes a bit of time for combinations to work. We’ve been together longer now, and we know each other’s games, so hopefully we can be more creative. It takes time to learn whether certain players step before contact, look to offload or run hard. It’s these little things that we were slowly starting to learn come the end of the summer – so hopefully we will take it on another step in the next few weeks.“
How big are these four games?
“Massive. I’m sure everyone knows that these games count towards the rankings for the World Cup – and the pools are drawn in December, so these aren’t just meaningless games. Victory or defeat will mean a harder or an easier pool come 2015, so it’s a huge challenge. Besides all that, we want to be perceived as a good national side, and we’re facing some of the best teams in the world in the next few weeks. What better way to prove how far we’ve come?“
And the World Cup is on English soil, of course. How important does that make home games between now and 2015?
“Yeah, of course it’s important. But we want to win our home games anyway. We’ve made no secret about where we want to be by the World Cup and what we want to achieve, and the honeymoon period is over. It’s just about results now – we need to go out there and start achieving them.“
Have you set a target for the autumn internationals, then?
uu “I know it sounds like a cliché, but it literally is about taking each game as a separate challenge, because the four sides we’re facing are so different. It’s about breaking the opposition down and being a bit more scientific to find their weaknesses, learn how to defend, and work out a gameplan to defeat some of the best sides in the world. You want to win every game as a player, of course you do, but it’s all about an end goal – and we’re building to the World Cup.“
Obviously the World Cup is still three years away, but how exciting is it to be part of this young squad right now?
uu “Yeah, it’s massive being involved in rugby right now. Just look at the lift the Olympics and the Paralympics gave everyone recently – and the next major sporting event in England is the Rugby World Cup, so to be able to be part of something like that is huge. We want to get youngsters playing more as well, and make it something big for the next generation.“
And, of course, it’s the lions tour next year. Is that something on your mind?
“Every player wants to play for the Lions, so of course it’s at the back of our minds that it’s a Lions year. But that’s still over half a season away, and there’s a lot of rugby yet to play. There’s so much going on at the moment that you can’t think about that. We just all have to focus on our game and keep playing well.“
Mark Coughlan @coffers83
The new England Rugby Kit from Canterbury is out now. Visit canterbury.com/england