As preparation for the next fortnight's collisions with two of the southern hemisphere's superpowers, England might have better spent their time taking on the scrums around the Twickenham bars. As a gentle introduction to international rugby captaincy, Saturday's international against Canada could hardly have been better for Jason Robinson.
Has any other international captain made such an impact on their first game in charge? Even though he was replaced after less than an hour, Robinson still found the time to score three tries and to pick up the man-of-the-match award. His team ran out comprehensive winners, scoring 12 tries and racking up 70 points without reply.
"The players have got to be congratulated on the week and the way they've gone out and performed - particularly Jason Robinson, who I think has been exceptional as a captain throughout the week," Andy Robinson, England's new head coach, said after the match. "Today, whenever he got the ball the place lit up. He has led from the front, as we expected him to do."
Robinson's - and England's - performance certainly needs to be put in perspective. Not so long ago Canada had enough nous and muscle to extend even the strongest rugby nations. The 2004 variety, however, is a pale imitation of earlier vintages, their weakness having been underlined the previous weekend when Italy registered a half century of points against them.
England's victory was achieved with, at times, embarrassing ease. Despite the regular flow of tries, the crowd still had to resort to Mexican waves to maintain their interest in the second half, while arguably the biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for a shot of the injured Jonny Wilkinson on the big screen as he sat and watched the Canadian lambs led to the slaughter.
The points still have to be scored, however, and, with the possible exception of Charlie Hodgson at outside-half, nobody contributed more to England's attacking display than the captain. With his team on the front foot for long periods, Robinson spent much of the game joining in the fun as the ball sped down the line of England's three-quarters. Almost every time he got possession gaps immediately opened up as Robinson bobbed and weaved his way through a bemused Canadian defence.
Mark Cueto, who went over twice on his England debut, has spent three years trying unsuccessfully to predict where his club colleague at Sale will run with the ball. "You don't really know where he's going," Cueto said. "I'm sure if you asked him he wouldn't know either. It's a question of just trying to anticipate what he's going to do. As long as you keep going forward with him, hopefully the ball will come to you." Robinson is such an instinctive player that his biggest problems seem to arise when he has time to think. After 14 minutes, having already scored his first try, England's captain seemed odds-on to score again as he broke down the Canadian left but, with options opening up all around him, he chose to run into a blind alley and the chance was gone.
There were further tries for Robinson either side of half-time and the margin of victory would almost certainly have been bigger had he not been replaced so early, a decision which the player himself could not explain. "There was no explanation," he said. "I was told to come off so I went off. Maybe it was to save a bit in my legs for next week."
Robinson, the first former rugby league player and the first black player to captain England, knows that the challenges South Africa and Australia will provide over the next fortnight will be of a different order, but he was still determined to enjoy his moment. "It's a very proud day," he said. "It's great to be captain, to score the tries and get the result but we can't get carried away. It will be a lot tougher next week."Reuse content