Six Nations 2014: Chris Robshaw's men to walk among the faithful at Twickenham to crank up support during Ireland test
The England captain says the fans will play a major part at Twickenham
It is not difficult to remember times when England rugby supporters yearned to see less of the red rose players rather than more, the benighted 2011 World Cup campaign in New Zealand being the most recent example. Things will be very different at Twickenham this weekend, with the captain Chris Robshaw and his colleagues heading for the dressing room on foot rather than on the team bus, going up close and personal with the supporters in the process.
England must beat Ireland on Saturday if they are to stand an earthly of winning the Six Nations title and Robshaw, egged on by head coach Stuart Lancaster, is keen to crank up the support level as much as humanly possible. To that end, the team will leave the bus in the west car park, well ahead of the Lion Gate, instead of disembarking inside the concourse.
“Twickenham and the crowd is a massive factor for us,” Robshaw explained. “We want to do a slightly longer walk because the supporters give us such a lift.”
Robshaw has previous when it comes to walking through the throng rather than driving through it. When he and his fellow Harlequins reached the Premiership grand final in 2012, they walked to Twickenham from their home ground at The Stoop, on the far side of the A316. It was not exactly the equivalent of the Pennine Way – the distance covered was no more than a quarter of a mile – but the Londoners drew considerable strength from the experience.
“By the time we reached the stadium,” said Ugo Monye, the international wing, after the triumph over Leicester, “we felt we were the ones with the biggest balls. I knew there would be some supporters along the way but I had no idea there would be so many.”
Cynics might scoff at the desperation of it, but the idea of teams connecting with the public ahead of kick-off is not a new one. During their glory years, the Bath players habitually walked to the Recreation Ground after a group discussion at a hotel in the city centre; Toulon do something similar in the south of France – and they are the reigning European champions. Under the “every little helps” principle, it is a plan worth pursuing.
With Dan Cole, their senior tight-head prop, unavailable because of a neck injury – the Leicester forward will be off-limits for the rest of the campaign, including the three-Test series with the All Blacks in June – a lot of planning is going on in the England ranks. David Wilson, the Bath front-rower, would be perfectly capable of filling in for Cole under normal circumstances, but he has been suffering from orthopaedic issues of his own and has had only 47 minutes of competitive rugby since the turn of the year.
“I have no idea how long I’ll be able to play,” the Tynesider admitted. “I want to do as well as possible for as long as possible – maybe 50 or 60 minutes. If I get through that and perform reasonably strongly, I’ll be happy. I would have liked one more club game to get my match fitness up, but that’s the way it goes.”
Robshaw acknowledged that the sudden disappearance of Cole was a blow. “Of course it is,” he said. “When you lose someone of Dan’s class and experience, it’s never ideal. But you have to adapt and David has always played well for us. A lot has been spoken about the experience of the Ireland players – the Brian O’Driscolls, the Paul O’Connells, the Jamie Heaslips – but we’ve been around long enough to perform well against the biggest names in world rugby. We’ll play the people in front of us, not their reputations.”
Ireland stand on the brink of a Triple Crown, having thrashed Scotland and Wales in the opening two rounds. But both those games were in Dublin. The last time O’Driscoll and company visited Twickenham on Six Nations business, they conceded 30 points. “We’re in a great position, but we know how hard this will be,” said Conor Murray, their Lions scrum-half. “This is definitely our toughest test so far.”
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