Chris Robshaw ready for fresh start with Eddie Jones’s England

England’s captain at the World Cup has re-watched the games from that tournament and says he has moved on

For Chris Robshaw everything and nothing has changed. He is still part of England’s squad, still a key part of their back row, still the most loyal of team men. Yet, deep down, he knows he is about to start again at Murrayfield on Saturday, his first Test since last year’s crushing World Cup disappointment. “It is a new chapter,” he says. “Hopefully I will have the opportunity to go out there and right some wrongs.”

In many ways the flanker’s continuing presence says more about him than anything he achieved during his four years as captain. Robshaw’s story has long been a study in resilience, of keeping going in the face of adversity, but England’s pool exit was a desperate hammer blow. The loss of the national captaincy to Dylan Hartley has been nothing compared with the mental battle he has been fighting in private.

It cannot have been any fun rewatching the fateful World Cup pool games that did for England, particularly the last quarter of the Wales game which undermined the host nation’s campaign. Robshaw chose to do it anyway, preferring to review the car crash – “there were a couple of mistakes along the way” – rather than leave it to fester. “I’ve watched every game and analysed it, as I would any other game. Of course it’s always tougher when you’ve lost and gone out of a World Cup but you have to learn to move forward. You can’t repress it and pretend it never happened. You’ve got to live it and learn from the experiences.”

Was it painful? “Yeah, of course it was. Let’s not live too much in that but of course it was.” Was there not a case for deleting the recording? “I’m very analytical – you have to see things, you have to know.

“When you’re just thinking about it in your head, you can forget some things, so it’s important to watch. I’m not proud of how the World Cup turned out but I’m extremely proud to have captained this country, proud to have played with every single one of those players and honoured to have been out there throughout the four years.”

Listening to him is to appreciate why Quins still think so highly of him – and understand why Eddie Jones felt compelled to look elsewhere for his Six Nations leader. Like it or not, the 29-year-old was the public face of England’s World Cup underachievement and his retention as captain after 42 Tests in charge (25 wins, 17 defeats) would have delayed any sense of closure. There is also the reality that England’s back row are far from settled – Maro Itoje, Dave Ewers, Jack Clifford and Sam Underhill, along with Billy Vunipola, will be pushing hard by the end of the year, if not sooner.

Robshaw, set to wear No6 on Saturday, was also uncomfortably aware that Jones did not see him as a natural open-side, which made the pre-Christmas period all the more uncertain. “I didn’t really know where I stood. There was a bit of limbo with no one sure who was coming in. When Eddie arrived we sat down and chatted, he said what I needed to do and told me to go away and do it. You hope you have done enough but it was great to get that phone call. You want to play international rugby, you want to win and you want to be successful. Hopefully I can perform and repay the trust that Eddie has shown in me so far.”

Writers Robert Kitson, Paul Rees and Eddie Butler give their views on England and the impact that Eddie Jones has already had

It will feel odd on Saturday even so. Scotland was where it all began for Stuart Lancaster’s England four years ago; Robshaw, who had only one previous cap, was anointed captain ahead of the injured Tom Wood and England scraped home 13-6. Victory this time, one suspects, would mean even more and further dissolve the post-World Cup hangover. “There were a lot of players, myself included, who were putting the work in but it wasn’t quite clicking. You were committing to training but for some reason you weren’t quite the player you were. It takes a bit of time to get it all out of the system and get back out there enjoying it.

“It was difficult coming back from the World Cup but I need to go out there and, hopefully, achieve again. You go through tough times every now and again – it is about how you respond. It is about the character of the individual; I think you see what you are about.”

It is for precisely that reason that his replacement Hartley can count on his team-mate’s full backing – “I fully understand the reason and respect Eddie for his choice” – regardless of the pair’s revised circumstances. Robshaw was worried about losing his captain’s single room – “I thought I might be in the bunk beds” – but driving back up the pine-fringed drive to the team hotel in Bagshot proved less traumatic than expected. “We have the same hotel and facilities but it feels like a new start.

“I always wanted to come back here because we haven’t really won anything. We’ve won some big games but you want to pick up silverware.”

The patriotic Robshaw will never lack motivation in a white jersey – “I don’t know if there’s one point where you’re more motivated than the next” – but if he helps England lift the Calcutta Cup on Saturday evening it will feel particularly sweet.


Robert Kitson

The GuardianTramp

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