Autumn Internationals: Captain Chris Robshaw facing battle with Matt Kvesic for England No 7 shirt

Gloucester's Kvesic impressed during the recent tour of New Zealand

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The Independent Online

Chris Robshaw, the England captain lambasted by his critics following Harlequins’ heavy home defeat by Saracens a week ago, can expect another challenge to his authority when his current understudy, Matt Kvesic of Gloucester, returns from injury in the Premiership match with Exeter tomorrow night. Kvesic missed the first two games of the campaign with an ankle problem but is likely to feature off the bench at Kingsholm.

Suddenly, the national skipper has his hands full. Kvesic impressed Stuart Lancaster and his fellow red-rose coaches with a deeply committed performance against the Christchurch-based Crusaders during the recent tour of New Zealand, and with Will Fraser of Saracens playing the house down in search of a first cap – he won the man of the match plaudits at the Stoop last Friday after shading his personal contest with Robshaw – the contest for the No 7 shirt during the autumn internationals could be unusually intense.

All of which has prompted Conor O’Shea, the rugby director at Quins, to mount an outspoken defence of his man. “Chris made every tackle he attempted last week, 13 out of 13, and 90 per cent of them were effective,” O’Shea said today. “He was phenomenal. If people want to question what we’re about, and what he’s about, after two games, it’s sad. If people want to start hailing players who haven’t been through what Chris has been through over the last couple of years in building this England team, again that’s sad. But it’s the world we live in.”

If Robshaw did not hit the heights during the New Zealand tour, he was far from alone: key members of the pack, including the hooker Dylan Hartley and the lock Joe Launchbury, went quiet on the tour and there was little to write home about from the likes of Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola. But the captain’s contribution to England’s development under Lancaster has been vast and the coach, a great one for rewarding players with “credit in the bank” is unlikely to move against him without overwhelming evidence of a serious decline.

Australia, under severe financial pressure because of the drop-off in international fixtures ahead of next year’s World Cup in England, are pressing the British and Irish Lions to pay a visit to the country in 2017, en route to New Zealand for their Test series with the All Blacks. The Lions played the Barbarians in Hong Kong before arriving in Wallaby country last year and even though the fixture was widely seen as a commercial stunt and heavily criticised, the Australians are offering to host a warm-up match along similar lines. “We would take it in a heartbeat,” said Bill Pulver, the governing body’s chief executive.