Chris Robshaw wants unified response to pressure of rising expectations
An awful lot has happened to Chris Robshaw since he shouldered the burden of the England captaincy ahead of the Calcutta Cup match with Scotland at Murrayfield back in February, but today's game with Fiji will be another first for him. Never before has he led the national team at Twickenham with the bookmakers' odds firmly in his favour.
"It's a unfamiliar type of pressure," the Harlequins flanker said yesterday, squinting through a left eye still bruised and swollen following a heavy knock in the Premiership game at London Irish almost a fortnight ago in which his side secured a 28-31 victory. "In a way, it's easy when you're the underdogs and you have nothing to lose. It's different when the ground is full of people who have come along expecting something."
Robshaw is in one of those no-win situations that make life awkward for an international skipper. If England struggle against the hard-hitting, not-so-pacific Pacific islanders, they will be roundly castigated – not least because many of the top Fijians have weakened the national team by opting to stay with their European clubs rather than tour in their country's colours. If, on the other hand, England win by 50, there will be an air of "so what?" about it.
Hence the captain's focus on the fine detail of performance. "We want to finish this game a step ahead of where we were in South Africa during the summer," he said. "We want to deliver the performances we expect of each other. This is the time to build our unity, to bring the team together."
Not so very long ago, Robshaw was new to rugby at Test level: even after today's proceedings, he will still be in single figures in terms of caps. Yet his status as a senior player has been reinforced by the introduction of three debutants to the match-day squad – the forwards Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola and Joe Launchbury – and the presence of two outside backs, Alex Goode and Charlie Sharples, who have only four Test appearances between them.
The captain is not fazed in the least. "The coaches have done a brilliant job in making the England squad a great place for players coming in," he said. "They're encouraged to play their normal games, which means they aren't made to feel nervous and they don't go into their shells. There will be some nerves around before kick-off, as always, but the environment will make it possible for them to enjoy every minute."
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