A leading bookmaker yesterday installed the Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw, who has yet to lose a game of rugby this season, as favourite to lead England in the Six Nations Championship after Christmas. This probably means he has no chance of landing the job – turf accountants know rather more about the 3.30 at Pontefract than they do about life at the bottom of a ruck – but events over the weekend certainly strengthened the flanker's hand as the time for decisions draws near.
Robshaw is one of three back-rowers widely assumed to be in the minds of the interim coaching team – an interesting assumption to be sure, given that the interim coaching team has yet to be appointed. Still, Robshaw started Round 10 of the Premiership programme in a good place and finished it in a better place still, thanks to contrasting misfortunes affecting his rivals.
Tom Croft, pretty much a fixture in the England side on the blind-side flank, missed Leicester's fiery derby with Northampton on Saturday and even though he is expected to recover from a knee injury in time to face Clermont Auvergne in this weekend's big Heineken Cup tie, he could have used an eye-catching performance against his fellow East Midlanders – not least because the third obvious challenger for the national captaincy, Tom Wood, was in the opposing line-up.
Albeit not for long: Wood was dismissed midway through the first quarter for throwing punches at sundry Leicester players during an old-fashioned outbreak of how's-your-father. Yesterday, he was duly cited for his role in the fight, as was his club-mate and fellow England player Chris Ashton, along with the Leicester wing Alesana Tuilagi. Ashton, who appeared to start the trouble by pulling the Samoan's hair, is charged with an act "contrary to good sportsmanship". For his part, Tuilagi is accused of contributing a bunch of fives. All will appear before a Rugby Football Union panel tonight.
Wood will certainly be included in the new Elite Player Squad, due to be named early next month, but if he is banned for the next couple of matches and loses ground to Robshaw, he may pay a heavy price. Robshaw has two high-profile games immediately ahead of him – Quins host Toulouse, the grandest and most successful club in Europe, in a mouthwatering European tie this Friday night and play the return leg on Sunday week – and then has a Christmas outing at Twickenham to help boost his profile. The Premiership leaders face Saracens there on 27 December.
Speaking of Saracens, the English champions' director of rugby Mark McCall confirmed yesterday that Peter Stringer, the veteran Irish scrum-half who forged a decade-long partnership with Ronan O'Gara at international level, had signed on loan from Munster. Capped 98 times, the tough little operator from Cork will spend the next three months at Vicarage Road and is likely to play a significant part in Sarries' challenge for a Heineken Cup knock-out place.
One further cross-border move has been mooted, which will be of some concern to Wales. The elongated Newport Gwent Dragons lock Luke Charteris is being linked with struggling French club Perpignan, a trail recently blazed by the goal-kicking back James Hook.
If rumours that Charteris – one of the stand-out forwards at the recent World Cup in New Zealand – has agreed a three-year deal with the Catalans turn out to be true, he will not be available for his country as often as Wales coach Warren Gatland would like.