Robshaw ready to battle history to cap off a surreal year
CHRIS ROBSHAW is determined to sign off a remarkable season by leading Harlequins, the club that is in his blood, to their first Premiership title in today’s Twickenham final.
In his way stand Leicester – the eight-time finalists who are unbeaten in their last 11 matches and targeting a record 10th title – and the weight of history.
Harlequins’ victory at Welford Road in October was only their second against the Tigers in 28 meetings over the history of the Premiership. But Robshaw has already achieved more this season than he could ever have imagined and so the prospect of facing Leicester holds no fears for the England captain.
“This bloke ain’t going out to come second,” said Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea.
There is no better example of Robshaw’s competitive desire than his reaction to being omitted from England’s Rugby World Cup squad last August.
Robshaw had been one of the outstanding performers in England’s summer training camp and the rejection from Martin Johnson hit him hard.
But Robshaw bounced back emphatically to become England captain ahead of the Six Nations and to be named the Premiership player of the year.
To lift the Premiership title today would be the crowning glory to a “surreal” campaign for Robshaw and seal a historic season for Harlequins.
“If someone had told me at the start of the year that this would all happen, I would have probably laughed at them,” Robshaw said.
“It was very frustrating to miss out on the World Cup. You have your dark moments and your sulks.
“But you have to get back on the horse. When you come here you are not coming to a job, you are coming to do something that you love, with your mates.
“It is brilliant. You look at the first team and more than half have come through the academy.
“It is special to be playing with guys I was playing with at 17-18, like Mike Brown and George Robson. When you are in club colours you want to be playing in big finals, big games.
“It will be a great occasion. It is everything you want to do as a player.”
Elsewhere, the fast-improving Harlequins loose-head Joe Marler will lock horns with Leicester and England tight-head Dan Cole in a seismic front row showdown.
“Leicester will always have that tight five that will take the game to you. If you don’t front up to that, you lose,” O’Shea said.
But Leicester are more than just an abrasive scrummaging outfit nowadays, as witnessed at The Stoop last month when the Tigers won an extraordinary game 43-33.
“I am glad for the game that the two teams who really try and play are in the final,” O’Shea said.
“Leicester are the standard-bearers, they are the club everyone else in the country wants to measure themselves against.
“Eight consecutive finals is an incredible record. We feel we are on the start of a journey. We know we are underdogs and we will see how far we have come as a team.
“They have attacking threats. They mauled us over in the first five minutes at The Stoop but they were also able to get width on the game.
“We know they can attack any which way they want – but I think so can we. When we make a linebreak we have to be clinical.”
O’Shea has named a full-strength side, with Danny Care back in action after a shoulder injury ruled him out of the semi-final win against Northampton and Ugo Monye recovered from a hamstring problem.
HARLEQUINS: M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa’asavalu, C Robshaw (capt), N Easter. Replacements: R Buchanan, M Lambert, W Collier, T Vallejos, T Guest, K Dickson, R Clegg, M Hopper.
LEICESTER: G Murphy (capt); H Agulla, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; G Ford, B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, D Cole, G Skivington, G Parling, S Mafi, J Salvi, T Waldrom. Replacements: T Youngs, L Mulipola, M Castrogiovanni, G Kitchener, C Newby, S Harrison, T Flood, S Hamilton.
Referee: W Barnes (RFU).