A late-night meeting with a pug-ugly French Test pack on Parisian soil is not everyone’s idea of fun, yet the prospect brings a smile to the face of Chris Robshaw, who has not played a competitive match since early May and has had his fill of the game’s less amusing side: the relentless gym-rattery and high-altitude fitness testing and psychological profiling. Unfortunately for the England captain, there is one last chore ahead of him – perhaps the most miserable chore of all.
Having talked through the final selection of the 31-man party with the head coach, Stuart Lancaster – “We do speak about potential options; he’ll say what he’s thinking, I’ll say what I’m thinking and we go from there,” remarked the Harlequins flanker after being named in the starting line-up for Saturday evening’s meeting with Les Bleus at Stade de France – it will fall to Robshaw to offer tea and sympathy to the eight players due to be cut from the current training squad at the back end of next week.
“It’s a tough situation, so it’s important to show some compassion and understanding – to speak to the people affected as individuals,” he said. “There are guys who have trained hard, challenged us in every aspect, helped put us in the greatest possible position… and they won’t make it, unfortunately. So it’s about making sure they leave on the right terms.
“You offer advice, whether they take it or not: sometimes, if you’re in that position you don’t want to hear anything – you just want to go off and do your own thing. But I try to talk to guys if I can, to be there for them. I’m not saying it makes life easier, but you do hope it has some benefit.”
Robshaw is as keen to receive advice as he is prepared, however reluctantly, to offer it. “I try to speak to as many people as possible, whether it be within the rugby forum, outside of rugby but still in sport, or in business, fashion or music,” he said. “In any field where people find themselves in a pressure situation, there is information you can take away. We’ve had Andy Flower [the former England cricket coach] and Roy Hodgson [the national football manager] come into camp; I sat next to Jimmy Anderson [the record-breaking fast bowler] at Wimbledon this summer; Stuart Broad [Anderson’s new-ball partner during the current Ashes campaign] was at our game against France at Twickenham last weekend. You can pick up little things from guys like that.”
There was never the slightest doubt that Robshaw would retain the captaincy for the global tournament on home turf: he has, after all, been Lancaster’s skipper of choice since the early days of 2012, when the coach set about clearing the flotsam and jetsam of the last World Cup campaign and detoxifying the red-rose brand. The flanker has had his critics – there are those who continue to insist that he is playing his Test rugby out of position – but there has not been even a hint of a suggestion that he is anything other than a top-of-the-range front man for a team acutely aware of the need for good public relations.
“I’m extremely honoured: every time I’m asked to do the job I’m excited by it,” he said. “You always have to earn it, to be on top of it, to meet the challenge head on.” As for the initial task, Robshaw wants to see a big upturn in performance from the England pack, which suffered a rough ride at the hands of the French last weekend. “Everyone has been watching the recent southern hemisphere games and talking about those sides making statements, so we want to go out there this weekend and put ourselves on the map. We want people to take notice of what we’re doing.”
England’s chances of avoiding early hassle in the World Cup’s “pool of death” by dealing ruthlessly with Fiji on 18 September will be significantly enhanced if the magnificent France-based wing Napolioni Nalaga fails to recover from injury in time to start the tournament. One of the outstanding players in European rugby in recent seasons, the Clermont Auvergne back has been struggling for fitness for some time and may not even make the islanders’ squad.Reuse content