No clowning around for Robshaw as Harlequins get serious for Europe
The England captain says his side are aiming for the Heineken Cup, writes DONALD MCRAE
DOWN A dingy corridor, and in a small room littered with dirty kit and muddy boots, the England captain sits on a hard wooden bench with a relaxed grin. The gritty backdrop of a cramped dressing room at his club’s training ground suits Chris Robshaw far more than some swanky television studio or corporate sponsor event. Over the last year, leading both England and Harlequins, the Premiership champions, Robshaw has seen his share of glamorous locations. Winning the English league’s player of the season in May also guaranteed his appearance in a tuxedo and dress shirt – but Robshaw looks happiest in this stark setting.
It’s still far from easy and, settling down for a break on another long day at Harlequins’ base at the University of Surrey in Guildford, Robshaw seems briefly weary. He might still be smiling but he leans his head against the brick wall and, in that moment, it’s possible to see how much rugby takes out of its leading performers. Robshaw is in the midst of a draining roll of club matches – with a run of tough Premiership games leading to the start of the even more demanding Heineken Cup this weekend as Harlequins begin a serious tilt at European glory at home to Biarritz.
Yet all this is just a prelude to the most brutally competitive of all months when, in November, England play successive internationals against Fiji, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Stuart Lancaster, England’s coach, suggested recently that he has not decided on his captain while also acknowledging Dylan Hartley’s rival claims. All this should be enough to make Robshaw need a quiet lie-down in a darkened dressing room but, instead, he sits up straighter.
“It adds to the excitement,” he says cheerfully. Robshaw even laughs when asked if he was surprised by the leadership debate – for it would be a real shock if, after a successful year in tandem as England’s new coach and captain, Lancaster should jettison Robshaw.
“I didn’t hear about it until one of the guys here told me about it,” Robshaw says, jerking his thumb down the passage to the distant sounds of his Quins team-mates. “I’ve loved captaining my country and it’s a huge honour but it’s only ever been on a tournament-by- tournament, and even game-by-game, basis. I presume it will continue in that vein. Whether it’s myself or someone else we will get told a week before a tournament or a series of internationals that we’re captain. There’s still so much rugby to be played this month.”
The only logical reason for Lancaster delaying confirmation of Robshaw’s appointment is the possibility that the flanker could yet be injured – just as he was in the second Test against South Africa in the summer.
However, Robshaw is still a comparative international novice. He was appointed England’s captain at the start of this year after winning just one cap. Lancaster was similarly unproven as a coach in the Test arena but, together, they lifted England out of the moribund chaos that had characterised their World Cup this time last year. Robshaw is too pragmatic to expect his re-appointment as captain to be a formality. But, as his expression glows and his voice becomes impassioned, he does not sound like a leader about to be replaced.