Chris Robshaw: The sudden rise of England's one-cap captain

Chris Robshaw makes clever on-field decisions, is a solid trainer and is good with words...traits that have earnt him the captaincy against Scotland. Those and a likeness to World Cup-winner Richard Hill

Chris Robshaw has a single international cap to his name, having made his England debut in Argentina in the summer of 2009, when most of the big back-row hitters were on Lions duty in South Africa. So if rich experience of Test rugby was fairly low on the Harlequins flanker's list of unique selling points when Stuart Lancaster awarded him the red-rose captaincy on Sunday night, and banished him to his hotel room with an order not to breathe a word of it to anyone, what were the credentials that counted in his favour?

Lancaster had all his answers off pat yesterday when he was grilled on the subject at England's training base in Surrey. "I've worked with Chris on previous occasions and I know how he conducts himself," said the interim head coach. "Captaincy is a combination of things: it's about decision-making on the field, of course, but it's also about the lead an individual gives in training, in building the team environment. As important as anything else is the ability to say the right thing at the right time. Chris has shown all these qualities in taking Harlequins to where they are now."

All the same, it is surely a risk to settle on a member of the "one-cap wonder" brigade: perhaps the biggest risk since 1984, when the brilliant young scrum-half Nigel Melville was given the England captaincy on debut and suffered a suitably Orwellian trial of mind, body and spirit against a rampant Wallaby side who went on to complete a Grand Slam tour.

"I suppose," replied Lancaster, cool as you like, "that it seems a bit of a risk to put in an interim head coach a few weeks before a Six Nations Championship and let him get on with it. But there's no risk if you're confident the person concerned can perform the role and perform it well."

At 25, Robshaw finds himself in an interesting place. Long tipped by some to play at No 8 against the Scots at Murrayfield on Saturday, his chances were dismissed by others who felt he would struggle for a back-row starting berth – that even in the absence of Tom Wood, the Northampton flanker who would surely have led the side but for injury, there were better options across the breakaway unit. Robshaw has in fact been selected as a flanker and if, as is generally assumed, he is on the open side, he will find himself sorely tested by John Barclay, the possession-pilfering bandit from Glasgow.

This does not worry him a jot. "I'm pretty relaxed about the process at the moment," Robshaw said. "I'll get more nervous as the week goes on – Murrayfield is a daunting place – but as things stand I just feel so honoured, so privileged. The players have been brilliant: Stuart told me to stay in my room and not speak to anyone for half an hour while he saw the people he needed to see, but when I went into the team meeting I was given a round of applause. And before that, Dylan Hartley [the Northampton hooker who was his most obvious rival for the captaincy] gave me a big hug and said, 'Well done.'

"It won't be run as a dictatorship: I'm not one for big speeches and I know I'll need the support of the senior players around me. I'll take an overview and since the buck will be stopping with me, I'll be making the final call on things. But when it comes to running the line-out, the defence, the attacking game... a captain has to trust people to help out in those areas. My first thought is to go out there and be who I am, which is what got me here in the first place."

Robshaw has a two-game window of opportunity: the Calcutta Cup match this weekend, followed by an awkward trip to Italy seven days later. "Then," Lancaster said, "we'll take a step back, draw breath and see where we are."

Being one of life's strong, silent types, the new captain was not remotely tempted to think past Edinburgh, let alone beyond Rome. Apart from anything else, he is deeply conscious of captaincy's inherit dangers – its potential for distraction and distortion.

"When I was first made captain at Quins, I immediately tried to do too much," he said. "I became stressed at the very first training session. It was Nick Easter [dropped as England's No 8 after the World Cup last autumn] who came up and said, 'Relax, we're all here to help you.' I needed that."

Born in Redhill, the business management graduate received a top-class sporting education at Millfield School – the Gloucester backs Olly Morgan and Anthony Allen, both capped in 2007, played in the same team – and won England honours at under-18 and under-21 levels, winning a Grand Slam in the first side and playing at a Junior World Cup with the second. A member of the Quins academy, he broke into the senior side in 2006, celebrating with a brace of tries.

"If he reminds me of anyone," said Mark Evans, who was chief executive at Quins when Robshaw first played with the grown-ups, "Richard Hill is the man." Would that be the Richard Hill, the World Cup-winning flanker who formed a great back-row combination with Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio and, in the eyes of many good judges, was the best player of the three – indeed, one of the finest half-dozen loose forwards ever produced by England. If it is, Evans has some substantiating to do.

"Honestly, I see him as a similar kind of player," he said, confirming that he was indeed talking of the revered Lions flanker. "[Robshaw] can play across the back row, his work-rate is second to none, he makes very few mistakes and he has a phenomenal engine. That's the most striking thing: his energy, his relentlessness, his ability to absorb punishment and keep going. His success as a captain at Quins is rooted in the respect he commands from his peers. He's also a useful line-out forward and a highly intelligent player, incredibly good with his decision-making around the tackle area."

Evans stopped just short of claiming that Robshaw donates all his money to the destitute, is kind to kittens and helps old ladies across the road, but it was quite a paean. Justified? We will know more on Saturday evening.

Callow captains: England's rawest leaders

Keith Scott

Cornish centre began as a cricketer before turning to rugby. Made England captain in 1948, after just one appearance, he led the side again but soon returned to cricket.

 

Nigel Melville

Uncapped scrum-half became captain aged 23, against Australia in 1984. Appeared 12 more times before becoming a successful coach.

Will Carling

Became the youngest captain since 1931, aged 22, in 1988. He had seven caps. Won Grand Slams in 1991, 1992 and 1995 and made the 1991 World Cup final.

 

Pat Sanderson

Worcester flanker, capped just nine times, led the tour of Australia in 2006. England lost both tour matches and Sanderson was dropped later in the year.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
Louis van Gaal at the Hawthorns prior to Manchester United's game against West Brom
football

Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past