Chris Robshaw: The labours of leadership

Exclusive interview: Flanker tells Tim Rich he is still learning to separate the demands of being England captain from concentrating on his own game, how it all went wrong against South Africa – and the way the team rallied round their skipper

There are certain questions you don't expect to ask England's rugby captain, especially when he stands six foot two, weighs 17 stone plus and is sporting a good week's worth of beard: "So, Chris, what is your favourite coffee bean?"

"We've got a very good Ethiopian at the moment. I did a couple of barista courses over the summer but I am still trying to master the finer points of it all. The one problem I have is trying to finish off the tops of the coffees properly with a nice pattern." Are you an espresso or latte man? "Latte, definitely. Espressos are a bit strong for me. I might take one if I need a kick up the backside before kick-off." Kick-off for his Harlequins side is at Worcester tonight.

Chris Robshaw runs his own coffee bar, Black White Red, in Winchester, which is not the kind of liquid most usually associated with rugby. Blood and beer have played their part in Robshaw's elevation to the England captaincy, particularly the lager served up in the Altitude Bar in Queenstown, New Zealand where the Queen's grandson-in-law somehow became involved in their "Mad Midget Weekend".

No dwarfs were actually thrown by Mike Tindall but there was a blonde and he had just married Zara Phillips. Perhaps none of this would have resonated had England not produced a gratingly awful performance in the 2011 World Cup but they did and when Lewis Moody resigned the captaincy he mentioned the "naïve and totally unacceptable behaviour" in the south-west corner of the South Island.

Robshaw had not been selected for the World Cup and responded by leading Harlequins to 10 straight wins which helped earn their first Premiership title and wash away the image of a club where phials of blood were handed out to fake injury. There were some who questioned why someone who had played a single Test was now good enough in 2012 to captain England but Robshaw represented hard work, commitment and a kind of Bill Beaumont-ish decency that had got lost in the wash.

"I have never, ever thought of myself as No 1," he said. "Sean Fitzpatrick is on our board and from time to time he gives a speech. One of the things I always remembered was him saying that if you want to be out there on the pitch as the No 1 pick you have to think of yourself as the No 2 who has to take someone else's place.

"It just gave me that extra motivation and when everyone around you is pushing for the same thing you need something extra to get you there. I won't ever forget becoming England captain. There were three or four of us mentioned and you tell yourself that, if the offer came, you won't be swept away by it but when Stuart Lancaster took me into his office it was brilliant. I wanted it with both hands."

There are some who think he may not be reappointed for this November's internationals and there are some who thought it would be taken from him last November. There were two minutes left against South Africa and England, four points behind, chose to take a penalty rather than go for the try that would have drawn them level. Mike Catt on the England bench made frantic signals but Owen Farrell went ahead and kicked.

As a miscalculation it did not compare with South Africa's thinking they had done enough to beat Sri Lanka when, under the Duckworth-Lewis system, they required one more run – which cost them their place in their own cricket World Cup in 2003 and Shaun Pollock the captaincy. However, the reaction was vicious. The All Blacks, the world champions, were up next and when he scanned the papers Robshaw was told that the most he could hope for was an honourable defeat in what would be his last international.

When decisions like these are made a captain is usually sweaty, often tired and sometimes in pain. "Yes, and that's why I have sometimes struggled as captain early on with Harlequins," said Robshaw. "I was trying to do everything. I would go into the dressing room thinking: 'Is everyone OK?' or 'Does everyone know their job?' and the one person's game who was suffering was the one I wasn't paying attention to – my own.

"Dean Richards, who was our coach at the time, had to step in and tell me to relax. He said to me: 'Look, we are here for you. Our job is to take the pressure off you because what you do cannot be a one-man show.

"But the South Africa game was the first time I'd experienced what you might call the wrath of the media. I remember talking to other international captains, men like Andrew Strauss and Lawrence Dallaglio, about it.

"They told me that this kind of scrutiny goes with the job, sometimes the media will be for you and sometimes against you. You can't avoid it, you can't shape it, you just have to take it but it made me realise what a great group of characters I have in this England squad.

"I came in the next day, head bowed, a bit sheepish. I'd been up all night thinking about things and, one by one, they came up to me and said: 'Don't worry, we'll win the next one for you." The 'next one' was New Zealand.

"And we did win," he said with a grin. "I did appreciate how special it is – I don't think I have ever seen Twickenham when it's been rocking that much – but it goes quickly. It's not until the end of the season that you can look back and say: 'That was a pretty good year'. It was like the other day when we beat Wasps by a point. All I could think was: 'It's Worcester next and then it's Sarries'.

"Losing is different. Of course you remember the good times, beating the All Blacks, but the defeats hang around a bit longer. They are the ones that come and really beat you up. You say the obvious things after the game that you're going to make sure it doesn't happen again but it doesn't make it go away and you end up watching one game a lot of times." That would include the climax of last season's Six Nations in Cardiff? "Yes, that was a hard lesson but all lessons are in international sport, unfortunately."

We are sitting in a rather lovely pub in Beaconsfield called The Saracens Head, where Robshaw, after a double training session with Harlequins is drinking nothing stronger than orange juice and lemonade.

One of his sponsors, Maximuscle, has invited him to coach the town's rugby club for the night. You can usually gauge the measure of a sportsman by how he reacts to these occasions. Rio Ferdinand would throw himself into a school football session while other Manchester United players – and let us not mention the name Cristiano Ronaldo here – would spend a lot of time looking at their watches.

Robshaw wears a chunky Tag Heuer but that is the only flash thing about him. Naturally, he puts his back into it. "I do enjoy these kinds of things," he said. "I've got to know Jenson Button a bit and I was invited to Silverstone to watch the British Grand Prix at very close quarters.

"Down in the pit lane the tension was obvious but what I found fascinating was how media-focused Formula One is. The drivers are interviewed on their way to the car, they are interviewed the moment they get out. There are cameras everywhere."

You couldn't stand for that in rugby? "Well, actually I would because it brings people into the game. They enjoy the half-time chats, seeing what goes on in the tunnel. There should be more of that."

Given that his other half is represented by the blonde, glamorous figure of the classical singer Camilla Kerslake, who has sung the national anthem at Twickenham, Chris Robshaw would be used to cameras by now. It is time for a final question, another you would not expect to aim at a rugby player. Are you into opera, Chris?

"I am getting into it a bit. We went to see the Book of Mormon the other day which is fabulous." But you're not sitting down at home listening to Verdi? "No, not Verdi. Not yet anyway."

Chris Robshaw was speaking on behalf of Maximuscle - the sports nutrition product of choice for elite and amateur rugby players. Maximuscle have launched a Reward Scheme to help amateur rugby clubs raise their game, for more information visit www.maximuscle.com/grassroots

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain