England vs France: Chris Robshaw fed up with finishing in second place in the Six Nations

'I'm not dreaming about lifting the trophy,' captain conceded

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The Independent Online

It is a long time since Chris Robshaw felt even vaguely good about himself on the final day of a Six Nations tournament: the England captain must go back to 17 March 2012, when he led his side to a 30-9 victory over Ireland at Twickenham.

If that performance meant nothing in championship terms – Wales had secured the title by beating the French a few hours earlier – it at least proved that red-rose rugby was something more than the trouserless farce it had appeared to be at the World Cup a few months previously.

England could run down the curtain on this year’s competition with another victory and finish second once again – in which case, Robshaw will feel rather different. When the Harlequins flanker says he has had his fill of coming up marginally short, who can blame him? It was one thing to go close with a profoundly inexperienced side three years ago; it would be something else entirely to be cast in the runners-up role for the fourth season running.

“After what we’ve been through over the last couple of years, I’m not dreaming about lifting the Six Nations trophy,” Robshaw said as he looked ahead to Saturday’s meeting with France – a contest that will decide who wears the 2015 crown. “Not yet, at any rate. But it would be fantastic for everyone involved in this set-up to win the title, because what you want most is to pick up silverware.

 

“Two years ago, when we lost heavily to Wales on Grand Slam day at the Millennium Stadium, it was a sobering experience. We were young guys at that point and possibly a little naïve.

“Last year, the situation in Rome was different, but equally disappointing in its way. It wasn’t a nice feeling at the banquet after the match, sitting there in our dickie bows, surrounded by cameras, watching Ireland win the title on the last play of the tournament. We felt we’d potentially done enough by scoring 50-odd points against Italy. It turned out that we hadn’t.”

When Robshaw tells himself that a win over France would be a significant positive in its own right – that with the World Cup looming, a decisive statement on home soil might make the rest of the sport sit up and take notice – he knows it is only half the story. If they head towards the global gathering as European champions, England will be full of confidence. If they miss out yet again, they might just wonder whether they are quite good enough.

As ever on these Anglo-French occasions, much depends on the psychology of Les Bleus. The fact that they have a remote mathematical chance of winning the title themselves does not begin to disguise the fact that they have had their traumas in recent weeks, and given that they loathe trips to London at the best of times, it may be that they fail to turn up, figuratively speaking.

But if they are strong? What then? “If they’re strong the challenge we face will be right up there, because they’re always dangerous and there’s never a time when we don’t truly respect them,” Robshaw acknowledged. “The French are bigger and more physical than most sides, especially up front, and some of the people they’ve been bringing off the bench are even bigger.

“I think we’ve evolved as a team, though: the way we play, the way we score tries even when we go away to the toughest places … sooner or later, we’ll really get it right and the floodgates will open for us. But we know that, first and foremost, this Saturday is about making sure we win the game rather than chase points straight away. We need to build a score, not start  the match throwing ‘hail Mary’ passes round the backs of our heads.”

Given the late kick-off and the idle hours ahead of them on Saturday, it may be difficult for some of the less experienced England players to avoid winding themselves up too early. “That’s where the people skills come in for a captain,” Robshaw said. “I’ll make sure I speak to anyone who seems a little nervous.”

But how will the captain handle the long wait himself? “I’ll sleep as much as possible, or watch some stupid comedy film,” he said. “I might even watch some rugby – maybe the first game of the afternoon, between Italy and Wales.” Won’t it be tough tuning into what most assume will be a large Welsh win? “I don’t know about that,” he replied. “We were happy enough when they won last week.”

The Leicester line-out specialist Geoff Parling, a Lions Test forward, is expected to return to the engine room of the England scrum, replacing Dave Attwood of Bath.

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