After Saturday’s remarkable 44-40 win and whitewash over Australia, Harlequins man Chris Robshaw will now have time to reflect on what has been a quite incredible upturn in his fortunes over the past few months. He has gone from a man who was chastised during and after the World Cup by both a devastated English public and indeed current England coach Eddie Jones, to a man who has been exalted by that very same crowd.
Writing about Robshaw before that fateful World Cup fixture against Australia in early October, Jones disparagingly compared him to Australia’s sensational backrow of David Pocock and Michael Hooper and labelled Robshaw as a man who was “not outstanding in any area”, who “at international level just doesn’t have that point of difference”. How Jones’ sentiment has changed.
Despite making Dylan Hartley captain under his tenure, Jones did not (as many expected him to) drop Robshaw from the squad. Just as he was essential to Stuart Lancaster’s side, he has been essential to Jones’s, having started every game since the new coach’s arrival. The England coach has publically stated that the former captain can become the best number 6 in European rugby and before England’s tour down under labelled his value to the team as “absolutely enormous”.
How extraordinary considering that this was the man who lead England through their most disappointing World Cup ever, through an experience which could not have been bitterer considering it took place on English shores.
Despite being unable to repeat the heroics of his 50th cap and man of the match performance last weekend, he was still an ever present. He carried and tackled his heart out. Yet this is what he has always done and at 30 years of age will continue to do. So why has he within the space of five months won more silverware than in 4 years as captain?
As he has done with many of the current England side, Jones has instilled a sense of belief. A sense that England should win every match they play. While his comments to this effect have bordered on arrogance, they have worked and they have been fulfilled. Moreover should players look complacent and as if they’re not up for the fight, he has been prepared to criticise them and to drop them. They are no favourites in the squad and this has undoubtedly motivated every player to take nothing for granted and to work their very hardest.
In regards to Robshaw, Jones despite not dropping the man who was supposedly one of the key reasons for England’s failures at the World Cup, did end his captaincy. This was a masterstroke. Robshaw no longer had that enormous pressure over his head: a pressure which had always made him look uncomfortable.
It appears that he also positively responded to Jones’s criticisms. Specifically his criticism that he was not a presence over the ball. He now wins turnovers and this has added immensely to his overall quality as a player.
He will desperate to continue his form into next season so as to force himself on that plane to New Zealand for the upcoming Lions Tour, especially after being so cruelly overlooked in 2013. Perhaps then England’s greatest ever grafter can put to bed the demons of self-doubt, disappointment and guilt that have haunted him since October.
By Charles Dew
(Images: PunditArena.com,The Guardian,SurreyCommet.co.uk)