Six Nations 2015: Chris Robshaw brushes off Millennium moment that may have made him

England take on Italy at Twickenham on Saturday

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The Independent Online

It is not so very long since Chris Robshaw was being pilloried for his style of leadership: the flanker’s many critics decided he was both catastrophically indecisive and wholly miscast – a bizarre fusion of the Emperor Nero and Michael Foot.

Suddenly, he is being heralded as the new Martin Johnson. If England reach the business end of the forthcoming World Cup and have a major say in the destination of the title, his new-found supporters will speak of last week’s Millennium Stadium tunnel stand-off as the moment that made a captain.

Unsurprisingly, given  Robshaw’s cautious approach to public pronouncements and his deep-rooted suspicion of the knee-jerk school of rugby analysis, he was reluctant to engage with the burning topic while presenting his skipper’s address ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations meeting with Italy.

Asked if he now considered himself a fully formed sporting general of the British Bulldog variety – a square-jawed, utterly resolute, up-yours kind of guy – he rolled his eyes for a split second before replying: “You’ll have to ask the other boys.” It was as good a way as any of not answering the question.

If there have been moments over the last three years when his captaincy credentials have come under fire – when his decision-making has been the story, rather than what the coaching fraternity call his “involvements” in a match, which tend to be far greater in number than anyone else’s – he has always had his defenders, the England boss Stuart Lancaster foremost among them.

When Robshaw was heavily criticised for not kicking points on offer, and then kicking them at the wrong moments, during autumn Tests against Australia and South Africa in 2012, Lancaster stood firm on his behalf. He did so again following the record defeat in Wales a few months later.

But there is a difference between a head coach backing his choice as long-term skipper and the rugby public following suit, so Robshaw’s quietly aggressive refusal not to emerge from the tunnel in Cardiff until he was damned sure his side would not be taken for mugs by a late-arriving Wales team served a purpose. The Twickenham crowd will be with him on Saturday, for sure.

He may or may not see the tunnel incident as a significant moment. What did register with him was the fact that at long last, he and his side found a way to win after going big points down in the early stages of a major contest.

Generally speaking, England do things the other way round: they do not feature in the list of biggest Six Nations comebacks, but certainly get mentions when it comes to coughing up advantages. If there was a red letter aspect of their victory last Friday, this was it.

“It was a big win for us, to get back from 10-0 and 16-8 down – to show the necessary composure, to avoid rash decisions and to think so clearly in such a heated environment when a goal-kicker as good as Leigh Halfpenny was among our opponents,” Robshaw said.

“We certainly weren’t as flustered as we were in 2013, when we went 17-3 behind. There was some panic in the way we chased things that day, but not this time. You hope to learn from the experiences you go through and this was a sign of the team evolving.”

And the pre-match cabaret? “We’d heard they wanted us out on the field five minutes early, being baited and booed in the freezing cold,” he responded. “Of course, we knew we’d be going out first and we wanted to pay full respect to Sam Warburton [his opposite number as player and captain] on his 50th appearance for Wales. But we thought we’d be better off in the tunnel until the officials told us to get out there.”

This weekend, the Azzurri will be scheduled to appear first. Such is Robshaw’s eagerness to build on the success in Wales, he might overtake them on the way to the pitch. “It’s a completely different pressure we’re feeling now,” he said.

“People will come to Twickenham expecting us to win comfortably, so we have to be completely aware of the aims we’ve set for ourselves. I think we’ve seen in previous games what a great Twickenham atmosphere can be like, with the flags and row upon row of supporters in white shirts. This is another step for us. The crowd have been fantastic, and we owe them.”

Italy, beaten by Ireland in Rome five days ago after frustrating the champions for long spells, have recalled two old warhorses – the lock Marco Bortolami and the flanker Mauro Bergamasco – to a pack also featuring Alberto De Marchi at loose-head prop. They have shifted Luke McLean to full-back, moved Andrea Masi to centre and asked Giovanbattista Venditti to fill the hole on the left wing.

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