Robshaw completes sudden rise to be England's once-capped captain

Chris Hewett asks if the Harlequins flanker is the new Richard Hill

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chris Robshaw has a single international cap, won in Argentina in the summer of 2009, when most of England's big back-row hitters were on Lions duty in South Africa. So if experience was fairly low on the Harlequins flanker's CV when Stuart Lancaster gave him the captaincy on Sunday night, what counted in his favour?

"I've worked with Chris and I know how he conducts himself," said the interim head coach. "Captaincy is a combination of things: it's about decision-making on the field, of course, but it's also about the lead an individual gives in training, in building the team environment. As important as anything else is the ability to say the right thing at the right time. Chris has shown all these qualities in taking Harlequins to where they are now."

Robshaw, 25, has long been tipped by some to play at No 8 against the Scots at Murrayfield on Saturday, but he has in fact been selected as a flanker. If, as is generally assumed, he is on the open side, he will face John Barclay, a possession-pilfering bandit from Glasgow.

"I'm pretty relaxed about the process at the moment," Robshaw said. "I'll get more nervous as the week goes on – Murrayfield is a daunting place – but I just feel so honoured, so privileged. The players have been brilliant: Stuart told me to stay in my room and not speak to anyone for half an hour while he saw the people he needed to see, but when I went into the team meeting I was given a round of applause. And before that, Dylan Hartley [the Northampton hooker, his most obvious rival for the captaincy] gave me a big hug and said, 'Well done.'

"It won't be run as a dictatorship: I'm not one for big speeches and I know I'll need the support of the senior players. I'll take an overview and, since the buck will be stopping with me, I'll be making the final call on things. But when it comes to running the line-out, the defence, the attacking game... a captain has to trust people to help out. My first thought is to go out there and be who I am."

Robshaw has a two-game window of opportunity: the Calcutta Cup match this weekend, followed by an awkward trip to Italy seven days later. "Then," Lancaster said, "we'll take a step back, draw breath and see where we are."

Born in Redhill, Robshaw received a top-class sporting education at Millfield School and won England honours at Under-18 and Under-21 levels, winning a Grand Slam in the first side and playing at a Junior World Cup with the second. He broke into the Quins first team in 2006.

"If he reminds me of anyone," said Mark Evans, who was chief executive at Quins when Robshaw first played with the grown-ups, "Richard Hill is the man." Would that be the Richard Hill, the World Cup-winning flanker and one of the finest half-dozen loose forwards ever produced by England?

"Honestly, I see him as a similar kind of player," Evans said. "[Robshaw] can play across the back row, his work rate is second to none, he makes very few mistakes and he has a phenomenal engine. That's the most striking thing: his energy, his relentlessness, his ability to absorb punishment and keep going. His success as a captain at Quins is rooted in the respect he commands from his peers. He's also a useful line-out forward and a highly intelligent player, incredibly good with his decision-making around the tackle area."

It was quite a paean. Justified? We will know more on Saturday evening.