Whatever dispute there may still be over Chris Robshaw's role in the England team – and judging by the way the head coach Stuart Lancaster told it, there is precious little debate amongst the people who matter most – the point of issue has nothing to do with the captaincy. Robshaw is a highly effective leader of the "follow me over the top" variety; a player armed with a solid track record of leadership in good times and bad.
To his critics, it is his body of work as a specialist open-side flanker that demands continuing scrutiny. Is he really a top-quality breakaway forward, or is he what is known in the trade as a "six and a half" – a natural blind-side flanker dressed up as something else? We are about to discover the truth of it, once and for all. Over the next three weeks or so, he is likely to run into three pure open-sides of a very high calibre indeed: the alert and athletic Wallaby back-rower Michael Hooper, who gave the England skipper God's amount of grief at Twickenham a year ago; the highly-regarded Argentine newcomer Pablo Matera; and – wait for it – some bloke by the name of McCaw. He's an All Black, apparently, and quite a good one.
At the end of last season, Robshaw's positional idiosyncracies, if that is what they are, threatened to cost him the earth. Left out of the British and Irish Lions squad because Warren Gatland, the head coach, did not regard him as a genuine No 7 like Sam Warburton or Justin Tipuric, he was also told, by Lancaster no less, that he needed to work on his footwork. He then had to watch Matt Kvesic, raised as an open-side flanker at Worcester and signed as such by Gloucester, play exceptionally well for England against Argentina in Salta, and again in Buenos Aires.
A response was required – and a response was duly forthcoming. Robshaw, a better footballer than any of his rivals, delivered a command performance in Harlequins' league victory at Worcester last month before producing an epic Heineken Cup display in adversity against Clermont Auvergne four days ago. In recent times, England coaches have been too quick make a change at the top: Martin Johnson's premature rejection of Steve Borthwick led directly to the implosion at the 2011 World Cup. Robshaw has done precious little wrong since being awarded the captaincy – a fact that makes Lancaster right to retain him.Reuse content