High road holds no fears for Robinson

Autumn internationals: Full-back quick to settle into new role but his team show they are home-loving boys
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bookies had set the spread at a reasonable 90 to 120 seconds, but it took no more than a minute for the inevitable to happen. Stephen Larkham, the Australian fly-half, collected the ball midway in the Wallaby half, took one step to his right and one look up, then booted the ball high in the air towards one particular England player. "G'day Jase, and welcome to your new position."

Hard as it is to believe, Jason Robinson only made his international union debut 12 months ago against Italy. That day, he came on for just 20 minutes and yet showed in that limited time what he might be able to achieve in the 15-man game. Yesterday, he firmly answered all those who doubted whether he could play at full-back as soon as he had caught Larkham's testing opener, picked himself up from a slight slip, and expertly released the pressure.

Hands up those who thought he could not make it? Three caps and a Lions tour ­ all on the wing ­ after his first appearance, there can be few raised arms remaining. He is, quite obviously, some way short of the full-back accomplishments of a Matthew Burke, but he has proved that he can hold his own there at the highest level. This, after all, was his first international outing in the position and it was against the best team in the world. Relax Jason, it can only get easier from here.

One of the key reasons why Robinson has been brought in to the team is that, apart from the natural attributes of a high-class No 15, he offers a little something extra. Try as anyone might, and Australia did all afternoon, it is impossible to guess what the 27-year-old is going to do next. But, then, you suspect that he himself is not too sure what the plan is. Proof of Robinson's alertness came after 15 minutes, as he took a quick mark, set off towards the Wallaby forwards and gave England the perfect platform from which to launch a rapid counter-attack.

Only Burke's truly exceptional defensive kick for touch from the far right-hand corner of his own 22 saved the day on that occasion. Robinson, though, was setting the tone and, in taking the game to the Wallabies, was encouraging his team-mates to follow suit. Robinson needed no telling; he instinctively knew the best way was forward.

As the first half elapsed, Robinson's confidence did nothing but soar. By the half-hour mark, he was showing signs of becoming a world-class full-back. His break from midfield after 33 minutes owed much to his lightning speed, of course, but a great deal, too, to his intelligent positional play.

With a 15-point advantage coming back from the interval, England and Robinson had a little more freedom for expression. And the former league star made the most of every opening he was presented with. Time and again, he broke free and carried the team forward. Significantly, not once did he fail to beat at least one man. No one expects a player to skip past Wallabies with ease, but at times yesterday Robinson was almost unstoppable.

His 40-yard break 10 minutes from full-time was as breathtaking as it was incisive and it says much that it took three Australians finally to stop the Leeds Express. The visitors did not know how to contain him. Nor did they know how to rattle him. On the few occasions when Australia broke dangerously, Robinson never lost his cool. Even when faced with a potential two-on-one late in the match, he decided to stand his ground and limit the running angles rather than rush in and commit himself.

The only problem with Robinson's accomplished performance is that he has set himself such high standards for future Tests. Solid under the high ball, accurate in his positional play, decisive with his breaks, strong in defence and ­ wait for it ­ impeccable with his kicking, this was some debut at full-back. And Robinson knew it.

Not normally one for big fanfares, the little man leapt into Will Greenwood's arms as soon as the final whistle blew. The win meant a lot to England; the performance meant everything to him. Here's to you, Mr Robinson.