Jason Robinson, rookie captain? Not quite. England's third post-World Cup leader cut his teeth with a rugby league side from the tough end of Leeds - "It didn't go at all badly," he said yesterday, before revealing that he was nine at the time - and has been making a very decent fist of the job as a grown-up with Sale in the Premiership. "I wouldn't describe Jason as a ranter," remarked Charlie Hodgson, who plays under him on a weekly basis at club level and will do so again when Canada visit Twickenham on Saturday, "but he is perfectly prepared to point out a few facts of life if he thinks our performance has been unacceptable."
Robinson himself admitted to an occasional reading of the riot act. "There is a time for the quiet word, and a time for plain speaking and a kick up the backside," he acknowledged. Yet there is little doubt as to his preference for the contemplative approach. When Andy Robinson, the new head coach of the national team, summoned him to a private corner of the team hotel in Surrey and offered him the role temporarily vacated by the injured Jonny Wilkinson, his first instinct was to pray for guidance.
"I was surprised," he said. "Of course, I was excited deep down; in fact, I couldn't stop smiling. But Andy knew I was reluctant to make an immediate decision, so he told me to go away and think about it. I went home, prayed, went back to the hotel, shook Andy's hand and told him I'd be delighted to do the job. I'm not claiming to be the best thing since sliced bread; I'll learn as I go along. But I do understand the responsibility I've taken on and intend to make it work."
It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast in styles than that between Lawrence Dallaglio, who led England when they last played an international fixture, and the latest officer in charge of the red-rose army. On the one hand, the Italian Stallion - the good-time boy from the West End who did not have a passionless pore in his body; on the other, the born-again Christian who turned his back on the wild excesses of his youth and lives his religion with every breath he takes. Common ground is at a premium, to say the least.
Yet desire for sporting success burns every bit as deeply in Robinson as it did in his predecessor. "I'm looking forward to causing the Canadians some damage," he said politely. "We need to get back to winning ways after losing five of our last six matches. There has been a lot of disappointment since the World Cup, what with the results and all the people from that successful squad dropping out. It's up to the senior players - Martin Corry, Mike Tindall and Danny Grewcock, as well as myself - to start moving things forward. I plan to lead in many different ways, and I'm excited by the prospect."
The question is this: can a full-back - a mere full-back, as every pug-ugly forward in Christendom would describe a man wearing the No 15 shirt - lead effectively when he spends a large proportion of a game miles away from the epicentre of the conflagration?
As well as being the first black player, and the first league convert, to lead England, he is also the first man in almost 20 years to captain them from a position in the back three. Mike Harrison, the try-burgling wing from Wakefield, was the last, having held the reins in the 1987 World Cup.
"There are good decision-makers throughout the team, and I'll use their expertise," Robinson pointed out in reply to the suggestion that he occupies the very worst position in terms of hands-on leadership. "It's not about one person. The coaches have put in place a game plan that all the players have responded to in a positive fashion, and everyone has a responsibility to put that plan into effect."
Should Canada - dear old impoverished, part-time Canada - dare to give England a hurry-up in the first half of this apparent mismatch, the flies on the wall of the red-rose dressing room will be fascinated by Robinson's reaction. But for the moment at least, the main man is enjoying his unexpected promotion. "I've done so much in my career," he said, "and there are times when I've thought 'Jason, you can't possibly do any more'. When the Sale thing came along, I thought 'great, but there really is nothing left'. And now this has happened, which is wonderful. Yet it is one thing to have the captaincy, and quite another to do well in it. In the end, it's success that counts."
* The uncapped Saracens forward Hugh Vyvyan has been added to the England replacements for the game against Canada, following the promotion of Andy Hazell to the starting XV in place of the injured Joe Worsley.
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