Conor O’Shea: 'Criticism of Chris Robshaw is cheap, sad and uneducated'

The Harlequins director of rugby has defended his 'outstanding captain'

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The Independent Online

Conor O’Shea is not one of life’s natural foghorn-voiced controversialists, but is still prepared to speak out on topics that really get under his skin – and the recent criticism and speculation surrounding the England captain, Chris Robshaw, is just such a topic.

The Harlequins director of rugby described denigration of Robshaw’s form and suggestions that he might not be worth a place in the national team as “uneducated and ill-informed”, adding that certain press clippings should be inserted without further ado into a place where the sun rarely shines.

“Chris has been outstanding for England and outstanding for us,” he said, speaking in the minutes following Harlequins’ 26-23 victory over Wasps at The Stoop on Saturday. “He is an absolutely magnificent rugby player and any team – any team – would be the lesser without him.

“I find some of this stuff insulting. If there’s an agenda against a player as good as he is, it’s sad. Sad and cheap.”

In ensuring that no one within earshot was left in any doubt as to his opinion on the matter, the Irishman mirrored Robshaw’s own sense of certainty, which was evident to all those with eyes to see during a compelling capital derby.

He was not the only back-rower to state a case for himself. His partner Luke Wallace made much of the early running; the Wasps captain, James Haskell, finished like a train; Guy Thompson and Nathan Hughes, two more visiting loosies, did plenty of eye-catching things in between.

But in the final analysis, it was the England captain who made the difference. His game-turning try on 46 minutes, from “minus two metres out” as he self-deprecatingly put it, was largely down to the fumbling generosity of the Wasps wing Christian Wade, but it still required of the scorer a rush of energy and a flash of instinct.

 

The telling line he ran in the build-up to the home side’s penalty try four minutes later was wonderfully precise, while his line-out steal in the closing seconds could hardly have been more important in the context of an ultra-tight contest.

Rugby is a game of many arts, the foremost of which is being in the right place – and doing the right thing – at the right time. In this, Robshaw ruled.

He remains phlegmatic in the face of criticism. “You just get on with it, simple as that,” he said, with what amounted to a verbal shrug.

“Like many players, I’ve been through a lot of it. If I’m honest, the last three seasons have been pretty similar for me. You have some sympathy for the other guys when things are written about them and your team-mates show the same support when it’s being written about you.

“The fact that I’ve experienced this before definitely helps. After you’ve been through it a couple of times, your shoulders get broader and you surround yourself with good people.”

There is no conceivable reason why Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, should move against Robshaw ahead of the autumn international series at Twickenham, which begins with a visit from Richie McCaw and his All Blacks at the start of November.

But there are significant forces ranged against the captain – Neil Back, the World Cup-winning flanker from 2003, expressed the view yesterday that Robshaw could not be sure of his place, talking up both Haskell and the Saracens flanker Will Fraser as serious contenders – and an early truce is unlikely.

As O’Shea indicated, there is very definitely an agenda out there.

Robshaw may have yielded the Quins captaincy to his fellow England forward Joe Marler, but it was obvious on Saturday that he still sets the standard for the younger members of the side, one of whom, the 23-year-old lock Charlie Matthews, played out of his skin.

It was not so much Matthews’ line-out work that impressed – it was reasonable to assume that, at 6ft 8in, he would look after himself in that department – as his naked aggression. If he was not quite Martin Johnson incarnate, it was not for the want of trying.

Deeply embarrassed by the nature of their defeat by Saracens last time out, Quins were spoiling for a fight. Matthews was probably not the ante-post favourite to ensure it happened – Mike Brown, the England full-back, would have been the popular choice, along with Marler and his fellow prop Kyle Sinckler – but the fresh-faced beanpole from Kingston upon Thames was more prominent than anyone in putting himself about.

“Sometimes,” said O’Shea with the broadest of grins, “something good can come out of something bad. I told the players that after Saracens, we needed to believe in ourselves – to get out there and ‘be us’.

“Charlie certainly got stuck in. The yellow card towards the end [for a deliberate knock-on] was a bit daft, but leaving that aside, it was the best game of rugby I’ve seen him play and I’ve told him so.”

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