The last man to go into England captaincy as raw as Chris Robshaw has advised the Harlequins flanker to lean on the support of his team. "Certainly the captaincy is a huge thing, and though it's very much a title there is the responsibility of leadership," said Nigel Melville, who is now the chief executive of USA Rugby. "I think the way to lead is to get on with your job as a player. And if you've got the whole team behind you, I don't think it should be a problem."
Robshaw, 25, is set to lead England against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday week. He has just one Test, a 24-22 defeat by Argentina in Salta in June 2009, behind him. In terms of caps he would be the most inexperienced England captain for 27 years, since Melville, then the Wasps scrum-half, was skipper on his debut as a 23-year-old at Twickenham in November 1984. England lost 19-3 to Australia.
"It can be a bit distressing dealing with all the media but Chris, as Harlequins' captain, should be used to that," said Melville. "There are obviously people, including the England coaches, who are confident that he can do it. They're looking to the future, which is good, and if they can get over the trauma of the World Cup, that will be good too."
The twist for Robshaw is that he may also have to cope with a change in his regular position, as a flanker, to No 8. Nick Easter and James Haskell had that role at last autumn's World Cup but Easter has been dropped and Haskell is in Japan.
"Since Chris joined Harlequins as one of those spotty 18-year-olds in the academy I would guess he has played no more than five first-team matches at No 8," said John Kingston, Quins' head coach. "When he's played there he has done it well but the reality is he's not asked to do it. What I would say is Chris has a fantastic propensity to deal with any challenge. If he was asked to start kicking for touch, he'd get out there and train and work out how to do it. He is one of the most coachable people you could imagine."
No club's players have had more England matches as captain than Harlequins', with 93 between 11 men – from John Birkett in 1908 through Wavell Wakefield in the 1920s to Will Carling's national record of 59 Tests in charge. When Carling got the job as a 22-year-old in 1988 it was on his eighth appearance. Most recently, Easter lifted the Six Nationstrophy last March, when Lewis Moody was injured.
But Robshaw was not the first choice when the interim coaches Stuart Lancaster, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell were appointed in early December. The initial buzz surrounded Northampton's quiet flanker Tom Wood. There was also a mention for the Leicesterfly-half Toby Flood.
Now Wood and Flood are injured, though they will be with the squad tomorrow when they meet at West Park Leeds. Lancaster, officially, will spend until Friday mulling his choice. Apart from Robshaw, the Northampton hooker and captain, DylanHartley, is the only other obvious candidate. In an extremely callow squad the Leicester flanker Tom Croft is rare in having a Lions tour behind him. The line-out looks strong but Robshaw would need to adapt quicklyto the base of the scrum, where the alternatives are the uncapped Ben Morgan and Phil Dowson.
"Any position I'm given, I'd be honoured to play," said Robshaw. "What got me the captaincy at the Harlequins was not really a focus on England. My focus is to go to Leeds and hopefully put myself in a good position to play. You can't be captain if you're not playing for the team."
Robshaw's attitude helped this former Millfield schoolboy succeed Will Skinner as Quins' captain when a new director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, came in after the Bloodgate saga.
"Chris is helpful, he's cheery and he's never stopped being one of the lads," said Kingston. "He gets his hands on the ball a huge amount, gets past the point of contact and controls the contact area in collisions. He's not the biggest man but he has an ability to run the right lines and be in the right place. I don't know who will be England captain but I do sincerelyhope that, whoever it is, they are given the necessary support."
Melville had skippered England B and Wasps and toured with the 1983 Lions before he made his debut-captaincy double. Injuries got in the way of a fine talent and he was captainonly six more times.
"It's not about age, it's not about experience," he said. "It is what you make it. Martin Johnson made it his own and others have done the same."
New faces for England: Dickson responds to cry of 'All change!'
The scrum-half Lee Dickson is prepared to work overtime so he and a much-changed England squad will be ready to face Scotland on 4 February. After spending a week in the senior squad four years ago, he is determined to make his Northampton form count.
"It's about spending extra time after training," said Dickson. "Finding out how the eights go off the scrum – I've got to get used to Ben Morgan and whoever else. And the hookers. I know Dylan Hartley from Saints but if it's [Wasps'] Rob Webber, I've got to get used to him. There's 32 players going to train in Leeds this week and no one knows if they're going to be in the team. Everyone's got new ideas, it's a fresh start. I'm going to work hard, be loud and be energetic. I've wanted to play for England since I was a kid."
Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson, who have retired from Tests (and entirely in the last case), are among 13 players from the 19-12 defeat by France in the World Cup who are absent. The others are Mark Cueto, Manu Tuilagi, Toby Flood, Matt Banahan, Richard Wigglesworth, Louis Deacon, Courtney Lawes, Simon Shaw, James Haskell and Nick Easter. Other absentees are Delon Armitage, Danny Care, Mike Tindall, Andrew Sheridan, Thomas Waldrom and Hendre Fourie.
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