England v New Zealand: Chris Robshaw delighted for chance to measure up with majestic Richie McCaw
'He's probably the guy who epitomises what it is to be an international open-side flanker,' says England captain
Unlike most Englishmen who have been playing Test rugby for longer than five minutes, Chris Robshaw does not know what it is to lose to the All Blacks. "It's a privileged position to be in," he agreed. Unfortunately for the red rose captain, there is no guarantee that he will be feeling similarly privileged come nightfall at Twickenham on Saturday. "I'm sure this game against New Zealand will be tougher than last year's match," the Harlequins flanker admitted.
It may be immeasurably tougher, and the toughest rugby of all is likely to be played by the New Zealand captain, Richie McCaw, who does not take kindly to defeat of any description, let alone the kind of record-breaking loss he suffered in south-west London this time last season.
As McCaw will be Robshaw's direct opponent and happens to have been the standard-setting No 7 in the international game for more than a decade – some of his countrymen consider him to be the best breakaway forward ever; better than the great Michael Jones – we can take it that the England skipper will have his work cut out.
Robshaw was happy to acknowledge the magnitude of McCaw's achievement in the dozen years since the South Islander first wore the silver fern at Test level. "He's probably the guy who epitomises what it is to be an international open-side flanker," he said. "He's played 120-plus times for his country and won more than a hundred of those matches – an incredible statistic in itself.
"A lot of people talk of him as an out-and-out No 7 and of course he is that. But he does so much more, whether it's fielding the high ball, performing the carrying duties, being abrasive in the tackle, reading different situations. He's won a World Cup, won Tri-Nations titles. As a player, you want to emulate that success.
"But we look up to players from our own history too – people like Richard Hill [the World Cup-winning flanker from Saracens]. They did it in an England shirt."
Last year, England faced the world champions in the immediate aftermath of two defeats at the hands of Australia and South Africa – disappointments that had a galvanising effect on Robshaw and company. "We had our backs against the wall and we went out swinging," the captain said, pithily.
The psychological landscape is different this time. The All Blacks are the ones with the point to prove, not least to themselves. That makes them dangerous in the extreme.
"They'll have the bit between their teeth, so we can't go into the game and wait to take a shot at them," Robshaw said. "We'll need to make sure we're in the fight from minute one.
"We'll also need to remember that our victory over them in 2012 didn't just happen. There was a lot of hard work involved; it took a lot of spirit. I believe we've developed as a team since that game and I want us to show it. I don't want us to be saying after the final whistle: 'We lost but it's OK because we won last year.'
"Getting the emotional balance right will be crucial." he added. "Graham Rowntree [England's forwards coach] was telling us this week how he once pumped himself up for a game too early in the week and felt heavy-legged when he actually ran on to the pitch. I think that happened to us when we went to Wales for the Grand Slam match back in March. We allowed ourselves to get too excited, which took it out of us a bit.
"Everyone has been speaking about this game – even friends and family, the people you rely on for some normal conversation when you're trying to get away from rugby. As players, we have to keep our cool until the time is right to get ourselves revved up."
With the back five of the England pack performing strongly, there may be only a single change up front when the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, reveals his hand today.
Dan Cole, the senior tight-head prop from Leicester, is expected to return to the front row after giving way to David Wilson of Bath for last week's meeting with Argentina.
Changes will also be at a minimum outside the scrum, thanks to injury.
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