Chris Robshaw wants (a lot) more of the same for trophy-hungry Harlequins
Harlequins 26 London Irish 15
Having captained his club to the European Challenge Cup in 2011 and a first league title in 2012, Chris Robshaw is not getting carried away, but the open-era benchmarks set by multiple trophy winners Leicester and Wasps are in the Harlequins flanker's thoughts. "Of course that's the aim, to go out there and back it up," said Robshaw. "We need to make sure we're in the top four of the Premiership, and with a home quarter-final in the Heineken, and then anything's possible."
Active sportsmen are rarely interested in taking stock but Robshaw admitted he "probably wouldn't have believed" anyone who might have predicted at the turn of this year that he would lead Quins to winning the Premiership and England to a record victory over the All Blacks.
Invited to reflect on his decision to demand the Harlequins pack scrummage their way to a penalty try at the last knockings of Saturday's 26-15 win over London Irish at Twickenham – rather than ask his fly-half Nick Evans to kick for three points – Robshaw let out a glorious, unfettered belly laugh. "You know, I've had a lot of ups and downs in those decisions," he said, acknowledging the implied reference to England's losses to Australia and South Africa at the same venue last month. "We got it today, didn't we?"
Get it they did, in a mostly lacklustre match in front of a full house, at the expense of a bonus point for London Irish, who are one point above Sale at the bottom of the Premiership while Harlequins sit at the top. Twickenham, where Robshaw had previously enjoyed the red-letter 1 December win over New Zealand, will be the stage again for England's Six Nations Championship opener against Scotland in less than five weeks' time. Meanwhile, Quins are odds-on to be at home in the Heineken Cup's last eight – to be played in April – and their tight forwards are in great nick. Enough to cow European heavyweights such as Clermont and Toulon? We will see. London Irish, apart from one penalty early in the second half, had an afternoon of misery in the scrum.
"We want to make sure when the dry weather comes, we're there," said Robshaw. "Our back three in recent games have been exceptional and our game managers in Nick Evans and Danny Care have put us on the right footing with a territory focus in the conditions.
"Being champions has been a new pressure to deal with. Everyone's aware of what we can do now and everyone's stepped up another gear. The good teams have more than one weapon in the armoury, when they need points, when they need something. You used to go to Leicester – we still go to Leicester – and when they kick it to the corner, they're not coming out without points. That's what we want. You want that maul in your guard, that scrum in your guard.
"Quins have been criticised in the past for a soft underbelly. There's a maturity now. A year or two ago we would have overplayed and given penalties away. It's about having that balance in your game that a team doesn't know where you're going to attack from."
Two desperate wheels by Irish that broke their pack apart were enough for the referee Greg Garner to award the penalty try. Up to then, Ian Humphreys' five penalty goals (with two long-range misses) had kept the Exiles in touch but they will kick themselves to have allowed Danny Care a try in the 53rd minute. Seeing a line-out drive well held, the scrum-half sprinted unchallenged abreast of the defensive line before Evans – who converted six kicks out of eight – made a dart and Care followed up to corkscrew through a mess of muddled Irish tackling.
Robshaw would not say whether he is a better player now than a year ago but he replied: "It's been a special year, with a few highs and lows. I'm enjoying my rugby still, that's always a great way to start. I'm in a brilliant position, surrounded by brilliant players in a great team. The [Harlequins] coaches give us a structure and belief to go play."
London Irish have clearly suffered from a huge turnover in players and coaches in recent seasons but they must view their 10 remaining Premiership matches including home fixtures with Worcester, Sale and London Welsh as ample opportunity to stay up.
"We've got to be brutally honest with ourselves and make sure our reaction to this is constructive," said Brian Smith, the director of rugby. "Harlequins have gone through the pain of building something and they're reaping the rewards. We're not going to get there overnight, but we will get there.
"There's a price to pay in life, whether it's in sport or business or your family, and that price is disappointment. You're only a loser when you stop fighting. That's the message to our lads."
Harlequins: Tries Care, penalty try; Conversions Evans 2; Penalties Evans 4.
London Irish: Penalties Humphreys 5.
Harlequins M Brown (B Botica, 59); T Williams, M Hopper, T Casson (G Lowe, 52), U Monye; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson, 78); J Marler (M Lambert, 78), J Gray (R Buchanan, 57), J Johnston (W Collier, 78), O Kohn (C Matthews, 78), G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest, 48), C Robshaw (capt), N Easter.
London Irish T Homer; T Ojo, J Joseph, S Tagicakibau (G Armitage, 78), M Yarde; I Humphreys, D Allinson (P Phibbs, 56); M Lahiff (J Yanuyanutawa, 70), D Paice (S Lawson, 78), H Aulika (L Halavatua, 76), B Evans, M Garvey (G Skivington, 70), D Danaher (capt), J Sinclair, C Hala'ufia (J Gibson, 56).
Referee G Garner (London).
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