Among the considerations that go into deciding the captaincy of England – the most recent incumbent, Lewis Moody, showed a thespian talent in recreating his team talk for a sponsor's advertisement – decision-making under pressure must be high on the list. Chris Robshaw, the Harlequins flanker and skipper who is among three or four prime candidates to succeed the internationally-retired Moody, had just such a pressurised decision in the final quarter of this fifth-round Heineken Cup pool match that knocked Gloucester out of contention for the quarter-finals while keeping the Quins on course.
Needing to win to avoid elimination themselves, Robshaw's men were 14-13 down when they earned an attacking five-metre scrum with 15 minutes remaining. Quins' centre Matt Hopper had scored a beauty of a try in the first half when Gloucester coughed up possession; James Simpson-Daniel skated past Matt Hopper for Gloucester's try after 29 minutes, and the rest came from kicks by the fly-halves Nick Evans – who had also missed three times – and Freddie Burns.
Two scrums were set and when the French referee Pascal Gaüzère whistled a penalty at the second, Nick Easter, the Quins No 8 and England's captain in two matches last season, duly jogged back to the halfway line, expecting Evans to kick for three points. Evans came up to Robshaw with a 'give me the ball' gesture. Robshaw had a word with his forwards – principally the hooker, Chris Brooker – and decided to keep scrummaging. Six more scrums later, the visitors escaped still in front but a man down due to Nick Wood's yellow card, after Gaüzère missed their flanker Alasdair Strokosch kicking the ball into the hands of Danny Care, who ran in for a try disallowed for offside.
Quins had only to wait a further three minutes for what proved to be the winning try when Care's chip on the counter attack bounced horribly away from Gloucester's Charlie Sharples for Mike Brown to score. But Robshaw did not know that at scrum-time. "It's my call in that situation," said Robshaw. "With a kick we'd only have been two points ahead, we thought we had them up front and for the majority of the game we probably were the more dominant scrum. Unfortunately they got a cheeky turnover. It was a try if you look back at it but we didn't get that one. Mike Brown and Danny Care put us through afterwards and we managed to nick a try then. We got away with it." A fillip for Care before his court appearance today to plead guilty to drink-driving.
So Quins go to Galway to meet Connacht in Friday's final Pool 6 matches, concurrently with Toulouse playing at Gloucester, and top spot is up for grabs. If both Quins and Toulouse win, the London club could make it through as one of the two best pool runners-up. After their early-season salad days of 14 straight wins they have lost to Toulouse, Saracens and Northampton recently, calling into question the Premiership leaders' forward ability. "Our front five were superb [against Gloucester]," said Robshaw. "They've had a lot of stick recently, but they stood up and showed what they are about." As for the England captaincy, Robshaw vowed to concentrate on Connacht first, before joining the national squad on Monday for two weeks' training before the match in Scotland. Interim head coach Stuart Lancaster has said he will choose the skipper during the first week, and Robshaw and Northampton's Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley are reckoned to have a shout. "It's been a bit of a hectic week, but it's where you want to be, and it's exciting," Robshaw said. "I'm really looking forward to getting up to Leeds and joining up with all the other guys and there'll be a great buzz."
Harlequins: Tries: Hopper, Brown. Conversions: Evans 2. Penalties: Evans 2.
Gloucester: Try: Simpson-Daniel. Penalties: Burns 3.
Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, M Hopper, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; M Lambert (J Marler, 50), J Gray (C Brooker, 50), J Johnston, O Kohn, C Matthews (T Vallejos, 56), M Fa'asavalu, C Robshaw (capt), N Easter.
Gloucester: J May; C Sharples, M Tindall, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns, R Lawson (D Lewis, 71); N Wood, S Lawson (D Dawidiuk, 67), D Chistolini (R Harden, 49), J Hamilton, A Brown (W James, 69), A Strokosch, A Qera (D Murphy 69-78), L Narraway (capt; M Cox, 75).
Referee: P Gaüzère (France)