Chris Robshaw will know things are going wrong against Argentina at Twickenham on Saturday if the crowd slip into Mexican wave mode before half-time. “We don’t want to wait 45 minutes before playing with the ball,” the England captain said yesterday, acutely aware that despite the victory over the Wallabies five days ago, there was a good deal of public dissatisfaction over his side’s first-half performance.
In a way, this is a mark of progress: back in the 1990s a red-rose centre as dangerous as Jeremy Guscott could wait 45 matches and still not receive a decent pass in space, so current concern over a sterile period lasting a mere three-quarters of an hour is unlikely to turn into a crisis of confidence. But Robshaw was making a serious point. Much as he was relieved to see off the Australians and win the try-count into the bargain, one look at the tape told him how much further his side must travel if they are to construct an attacking game that might be fit for purpose at the home World Cup in 2015.
"We weren't exactly happy with that performance," he confessed. "We wanted so much more out of the game. But it's not easy to put everything in place immediately when you haven't played together as a team for seven months and when I look at our intensity at the breakdown and our defensive display, there were good things in the match.
"We had to get the cobwebs out of our system and to do that while winning a game against a top team capable of challenging you all over the pitch… when you look at it that way, it was great."
Robshaw's own contribution, marked by a tackling display as faultless as it was productive and topped off with a first international try, was one of the central features of the victory – only England's third over Australia at Twickenham since World Cup-winning year a decade ago. An entire summer's worth of debate over who should lead the side was forgotten during a contest in which his approach to the captaincy seemed more vocal, more diplomatic and more nuanced at one and the same time.
Certainly, he appeared to develop a good rapport with the Irish referee George Clancy, in much the same way that the Lions skipper Sam Warburton did with Steve Walsh, the New Zealander-turned-Australian, on Grand Slam day in Cardiff last March. Warburton was not leading Wales on that occasion, largely through choice, but he might as well have been, such was his success in getting in Walsh's ear and shaping events to his liking. Robshaw? He spent that game talking to himself.
"Communication with the referee is easier when you're on the front foot," said the flanker, aware that the comparison with Warburton back in the spring had been damaging to him, not least in terms of Lions selection. "If you're out there fighting a losing battle, it's more difficult than if you're being rewarded for your superiority. Yes, I think my tone was probably different last weekend, but we had some ascendancy in the scrum and that allowed me to speak to the ref a little more."
Three-match autumn series can be awkward to navigate, especially when so-called "second-tier" opposition is the meat in a superpower sandwich. Having beaten Australia, albeit a shop-soiled version of the green-and-gold product, it would be all too easy for England to switch off ahead of the most eagerly awaited of the November Tests, against the All Blacks on Saturday week.
"I'm sure there won't be any drop-off from us," Robshaw countered. "Matches against forward-orientated sides like the Pumas are tough challenges in themselves and we'll be properly prepared." That much is certain, for England's backroom strategists are on top of their game in the vital sphere of opposition analysis.
"One of the big turning points for us last weekend, especially after half-time, was the fact that everyone did their jobs – a result of the large amount of video analysis we'd done," the captain continued. "For example, we knew the kind of line-out the Wallabies would call deep in their own 22 and that if we could pressure it, Will Genia [the visitors' scrum-half] might struggle with his clearance kick and we might get some momentum." And so it proved. Robshaw's try came from precisely that situation.
Argentina will be a whole lot easier to analyse, especially as their "point of difference" players – the flanker Juan Fernandez Lobbe, the midfield maestro Juan Martin Hernandez, the eye-wateringly powerful hooker Agustin Creevy – are all injured. Yet Robshaw knows a trap when he sees one, and is approaching the game with due caution.
"Things feel different after a victory: had we lost against the Wallabies, our backs would have been against the wall," he said. "But winning brings its own pressure because in the end, the thing we're seeking is consistency."