Loyal Stuart Lancaster ignores doubters to retain Chris Robshaw in role of 'general'
England coach confirms Quins flanker will retain captaincy for upcoming Six Nations campaign
Stuart Lancaster backed his own expertise as a student of human nature when first confronted by the England captaincy issue almost exactly a year ago, and precious little has happened in 12 breathlessly hectic months to persuade him that his initial decision requires revisiting. Tonight the red-rose coach confirmed that Chris Robshaw, the Premiership-winning Harlequins flanker, would continue in the role for the forthcoming Six Nations, which begins with the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland at Twickenham in 11 days' time.
Robshaw had his uncomfortable moments during the recent autumn international series against the cream of the southern hemisphere crop: twice in consecutive matches, against Australia and South Africa, his on-field decision-making was called into question. His critics accused him of being caught in two minds – sometimes three – over taking penalty shots at goal, and after the narrow defeat by the Springboks there was much talk of a change, with the Northampton back-rower Tom Wood fast emerging as favourite.
But in reality, Robshaw was never under threat: Lancaster is not the sort to switch horses in mid-race, and once the All Blacks were put firmly in their place in the final match of the series, the skipper's position was doubly secure.
Wood, outstanding in that game against the New Zealanders, will remain a valued part of the senior players' group – the "generals", as Lancaster calls them. So too will another captaincy candidate for the future, the hooker Dylan Hartley, who led England in Robshaw's absence against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth last June. However, the Northampton captain has enough on his plate dealing with the threat to his starting role posed by Tom Youngs of Leicester, one of the big winners during the autumn Tests.
Meanwhile, another England newcomer, the Gloucester outside-half Freddie Burns, will have a scan on damaged knee ligaments over the next couple of days, the results of which will determine his chances of playing a part against the Scots. Burns, who won his first cap against the All Blacks and had himself a ball during the 17 minutes he spent on the field, picked up the injury while on European club duty against Mont-de-Marsan last week.
The current fear is that he will be incapacitated for around three weeks and if that is confirmed, he will struggle to make the cut for the second Six Nations game against Ireland in Dublin. Lancaster will not be overly concerned, given the current form of Owen Farrell and Toby Flood, the other No 10s in the elite squad. However, Burns is a different kind of operator and brings a welcome attacking dimension to the England midfield.
On the club front, Bath have signed the veteran Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer on loan from Munster. The 35-year-old Heineken Cup winner, capped 98 times by his country, will spend the next couple of months with the West Countrymen, who have been hit by a series of injuries in the position.
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