After England’s dismal World Cup campaign, captain Chris Robshaw was one of those players who copped the most flak for his side’s failings.
From a last minute decision to kick for the corner instead of go to the posts, to questions over his credentials as an international openside flanker, Robshaw has had it with both barrels from all directions. Even new England Head Coach Eddie Jones questioned his selection in the number seven jersey whilst he was still in charge of Japan.
The problem is that much of this criticism has come in the heat of the moment, without fans and pundits taking the time to step back and analyse the true impact of Robshaw. Yes, he may not make game changing plays like a David Pocock or Richie McCaw might, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact he has been a solid player for England over the last four years.
It’s easy to forget that under his captaincy, England have had the best winning record of any side since the one coached by Sir Clive Woodward. It’s also easy to forget that whilst he may not rank too highly on the turnover stats, he is usually amongst the top tacklers in the side, whilst his ability to remain fit is almost unparalleled in international rugby, especially given the abrasive nature of his position.
Realistically, Robshaw is unlikely to wear the number seven shirt during Eddie Jones’ tenure as the new coach has already hinted he feels the role requires more of a fetcher. That being said, there is absolutely no reason why Robshaw can’t switch sides and don the number six shirt to great effect over the next four years.
Let’s first look at him as a potential blindside flanker. Without doubt one of his biggest strengths is his incredible workrate which allows him to consistently rank amongst the top tacklers in the team. With Robshaw playing this role making the first up tackles, it would give the new man in the number seven shirt the opportunity to get to the breakdown second where they can work to secure the ball.
If you look at the best back row units during the World Cup, they all worked off this simple formula. Scott Fardy for the Wallabies did a lot of the unseen grunt working, making tackles to allow Hooper and Pocock to look for turnover opportunities. The same went for McCaw who fed off the work of Jerome Kaino on the blindside.
Not only this, but Robshaw plays the link role fantastically well, especially for Harlequins where he helps get the ball out to the backs quickly. He is also a solid lineout jumper ensuring the team have options at the set piece. The only potential criticism would be his carrying, however with a player like Ben Morgan or Billy Vunipola playing at number 8, it would largely negate this.
Whilst there are obviously other contenders for the number six jersey like Tom Wood, none of them have the existing captaincy experience that Robshaw now possesses. Given that there is a lack of other genuine captaincy contenders in the current squad, it makes the idea of Robshaw remaining on in the role even more appealing.
One potential issue might be that Robshaw (currently 29) will be 33 by the time the next World Cup comes around, however that hardly hampered McCaw at the age of 34 or Jerome Kaino at the age of 32 this year. It would also mean England went into the 2019 World Cup with a captain who has eight solid years of experience and 80+ caps which is in stark contrast to the 2015 World Cup where the team went in under-experienced.
It would obviously be stupid to guarantee Robshaw a place in the side without having at least looked at the other options, however too many fans have been quick to dismiss him before the options have been considered. I for one would like to see a sensible approach to his inclusion over the next few years rather than knee-jerk reactions designed to appease aggrieved fans.