“Every player has to earn his right into the squad… even the Captain” so can Chris Robshaw really lead us to success in 2015?
Those were the closing comments from Stuart Lancaster as he announced his EPS squad for the autumn internationals. A well-worn statement some might say as everyone should have to earn their place in an international team. However with less than a year to go until the world cup lands in England is Lancaster giving himself an escape route?
Let’s head back to the start of the season where Robshaw’s captaincy at Harlequin’s was passed onto teammate and rugby funny man Joe Marler. A smart move, if I do say so myself; however, coupled with the on-going Steffon Armitage debate, it introduces a grain of doubt with regards to Robshaw’s grip on the number 7 jersey and the captaincy. Previously Robshaw has managed the job of club and country captaincy admirably, but whilst the Marler appointment was viewed as a wise decision, it is one that has produced the burning question of- was the pressure just getting too much? With his workload halved, he should be capable to go on to bigger and better things, right? On the other hand it could also be seen to be taking a page from the books of international captains Sam Warburton and Paul O’Connell who also don’t captain their club sides.
Whether internationally or for his club he’s always had the full respect of his teammates and coaches, especially Harlequin’s Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea. Back in 2012 he said, “He can almost be OCD in trying to master some facets of his game. He is an outstanding natural leader who, in the classic way, would never ask anybody to do anything that he hadn’t already done himself.”
So is he the man to take us to the next big level of World Cup Rugby? Ever since Stuart Lancaster took over in 2011 his model has been built around the strong, consistent, high stamina Robshaw. Now the team is starting to take shape and natural leaders appearing in all positions, a key prerequisite for a successful team. This weakens Robshaw’s position as a leader.
The availability of Armitage, constantly debated, would create an interesting transformation of the England squad whilst not only putting the No. 7 shirt up for contention but also the place of England Captain.
The last England Captain to win a world cup was Martin Johnson, in 2003, a quiet physical presence who never took a step backward. There are similarities in that both captain’s led by example, making the hard yards and expecting their men to follow. When it comes to star- studded experience Johnson has captained 2 Lions tours playing 15 games whereas Robshaw is yet to win his first cap in the elite club. This experience is key to managing a team to the highest level. Robshaw’s lack of elite management could see him crumble when it comes to the home pressure next year.
Respect and consistency are key attributes to any captain; Robshaw has it in spades. Overshadowing him is the spectre of a better English qualified player. If anyone would welcome Steffon Armitage into the England squad you would think it would be Robshaw so that he could prove himself against what many consider to be the best English back-row forward currently playing.
Over the coming months the spotlight will be on Robshaw and his merry men as they get stuck into the most important year of their careers. The autumn internationals will help to indicate whether the Robshaw/Lancaster partnership is one that is going to continue to prosper. I fear that anything less than a win could push further pressure for both the Captain and No. 7 shirt to be reconsidered.
So now it’s over to you, I want to know; Is Robshaw the right man to lead us to success? Or could the likes of Wood, Haskell or Hartley lead England to even greater heights? Let me know what you think by tweeting @InTheLoose to continue the debate.