Suddenly, the public perception of Chris Robshaw – and, indeed, of the coach who made an England captain of him, Stuart Lancaster – is that they learnt all they know about leadership while studying at the King Lear Academy. Never mind that the national team, still in the early stages of its development, lost by a miserable point (16-15) against the second best side in world rugby. Robshaw and Lancaster are deep in clanger territory. If Lancaster and Robshaw find themselves on the wrong end of an All Black shellacking this coming weekend, they will have an awful lot of fire-fighting ahead.
The manner of the game's denouement, hard on the heels of the tactical muddle against the Wallabies seven days previously, started fresh controversy.
Was Robshaw right or wrong to opt for a three-point penalty shot, with his side four points behind and only a couple of minutes left? Should he have gone to the corner in search of a match-winning try? Put like that, the decision was a no-brainer. But as Lancaster argued post-match, there were logical arguments either way.
What was not justified was any delay between the awarding of the penalty and the goaling of it. Sadly, the gap between Robshaw signalling for the sticks and Owen Farrell sticking the ball between them was almost exactly a minute and extremely costly. Farrell appeared to disagree with the captain's decision, starting a conference his team could ill afford. Unfortunately, the impression left was of a skipper not quite sure of his own indecision.
Which was something of a shame, for Robshaw delivered far more against an extremely useful Springbok loose trio than he had against the Australians. He turned over possession, tackled his weight and completed his close-quarter passes with precision. Together with Parling, who played his best game in an England shirt, he prospered against the toughest of opponents. So did the four forwards wisely drafted in by Lancaster – especially Joe Launchbury, the young Wasps lock on his first Test start, and the returning prop Alex Corbisiero.
But for a freak try at the start of the second half – a pinball production that started with Juandre Kruger's fumble and ended with Willem Alberts capitalising on a deflection off Ben Morgan – the last two minutes would not have unfolded as they did.
With the All Blacks heading his way, there were more urgent things on Lancaster's mind: fitness concerns over Toby Flood; the poor form of Chris Ashton, who managed to butcher his side's one clear-cut chance of a try by playing a lone Springbok defender into the game rather than out of it with a poor pass; the ongoing lack of creativity in midfield. And, of course, the severe criticism being levelled at his captain. Problems, problems.
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