Six Nations 2014: We crossed a bridge by finally beating Wales, says Chris Robshaw
England captain feels victory put down World Cup marker
What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, the England captain Chris Robshaw was avoiding the Millennium Stadium question like the proverbial plague, arguing that this season's Six Nations match with Wales would be quite demanding enough in its own right, without viewing it through the prism of last year's red-rose calamity in Cardiff.
Today, the flanker was seeing things in a very different light, suggesting that had the Welsh won for the third year in succession, it could have had a significant impact on the 2015 World Cup campaign.
"I think we can see it as a bridge crossed," said the Harlequin, reflecting on the unexpectedly convincing victory over the reigning champions at Twickenham four days ago – a result that gave England a puncher's chance of winning the title themselves against Italy in Rome on Saturday. "We'd lost at home in 2012, then down there last time, and with them being in our World Cup pool, three wins on the bounce, and with us going back to the Millennium Stadium a year from now… it would have left us with a huge task. It was a big thing for this group of players, last weekend's game. We hadn't beaten them. Now, we have."
By defeating the best side in Europe without having to push themselves to the very limit, it is perhaps understandable that Robshaw and his colleagues will be in "bring it on" mood when they attempt to eke out a result against the best side in the world.
The three-Test series in New Zealand gets underway at the beginning of June and, according to the captain, England have the capacity to make a nuisance of themselves against the All Blacks. This will make a pleasant change, of course: on their previous two visits to the country, the only locals seriously inconvenienced by the tourists were members of the constabulary.
"Yes, I think we can have a real go at the All Blacks," the captain said. "It will be our most challenging task to date and it's probably not ideal that, depending on which clubs reach the Premiership final, some players will miss the first Test in Auckland. But that situation will give other people an opportunity, and as you need 30 players to win a World Cup rather than 15, it will be good for our development.
"We always talk about New Zealand's ability to be interactive in the way they change players when people go on sabbatical or are out of the side for some other reason: those who come in always seem to excel. That's what you need, isn't it? Two or three contenders for every position, looking to put up their hands and take their opportunities."
Talking of sabbaticals, voluntary or otherwise, Robshaw feels his latest purple patch of form has much to do with the six weeks of quality "down time" he enjoyed last summer. Initially, he wondered whether enjoyment would feature at all: having been passed over for British and Irish Lions duty, largely in favour of the Welsh back-rowers who felt the force of his righteous indignation last weekend, he was also left off the England tour of Argentina, even though he badly wanted to make the trip. Now, he recognises the wisdom of the call made by Stuart Lancaster, the national coach.
"I think it was the best thing for me," Robshaw conceded. "I was not in a great place mentally come the end of last season, what with all the setbacks and disappointments over not making tours and not winning trophies and that kind of stuff. So to get away for six weeks was ideal. It allowed me to come fresh into the season and get back in the swing of things."
And so to Rome, where England are confidently expected to win against a team stuck firmly to the bottom of the Six Nations table. That expectation brings its own dangers, as the captain acknowledged.
"There was so much hype going into the Wales game, we've had a short turnaround and a lot of the guys are still a little sore," he said. "But we'll be going into this one very focused on the job. It's the weekend that decides the championship and we have to take care of our side of things.
"I've been in big games with Quins where we've chased points and ended up losing, when if we'd simply concentrated on winning the match we'd have qualified for the next stage of the competition. So this is about getting the victory. Anything more than that will be a bonus."
As for the idea that the Azzurri will be easy meat, Robshaw was quick to distance himself from it. "That perception is way outside the camp," he said firmly. "The attacking rugby the Italians play has come on leaps and bounds and they'll test us defensively."
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