Chris Robshaw is a man that could be forgiven for getting carried away with things. A year ago he was sitting at home watching his country compete at the Rugby World Cup, having been left out of the squad. After an incredible turn of events, he finds himself consolidated as not only England captain, but captain of the Premiership champions.
The fact that he is such a grounded man is a testament to his, and Quins’, values. “We just want to be a better team than we were last year. We’re in a great situation, and everyone just wants to work harder to be a successful team that can back it up.” Their hard work was evident in the curtain-raiser this season, Robshaw leading an astonishing fight back from 27 points down against Wasps. “It shows the belief we have in the squad. We were on holiday mode for about 50 minutes, and credit to Wasps, they had a game plan and they exploited us well. In the last half hour we turned up, we shook off some of the rust, and hopefully we can keep that form going now. It’s about finding your form quickly.”
It certainly seems as though they have, registering a much more comfortable 40-3 victory over London Welsh at the weekend. Surely it was a different reaction for the squad to that game, relief at an easier victory perhaps? On the contrary. “Winning is winning,” he says, showing that underlying competitiveness that drives all great sportsmen. “It doesn’t matter who it’s against, you make sure you’re on the money. We still feel like we left a few opportunities out there [against London Welsh], we’ve looked back at our video and we feel there’s definitely more to give.” After such a convincing performance, that is not what the rest of the Premiership wants to be hearing.
Robshaw is a Quins boy through and through, emerging in the Dean Richards era before really being let loose by Conor O’Shea. “Dean did some great work with everything at the club, and installed a kind of hard edge to the team. Conor’s come in and put his mark on it as well, brought in some great coaches, and kept on building on what was there. He’s brought in new ideas, from all his experience at UK Sport, and I think that’s really benefited us. He’s one of the most positive men around, and I think that rubs off in the way we play.”
He insists that they are not getting ahead of themselves. In fact, when I mention whether anything other than winning the Premiership again would be considered a failure, he chuckles. “That’s a long way away at the moment, we’re only two games into the season. Of course you do want to win things, but it’s about making sure you’re in that top 4 at the end of the season. We don’t actually set out-and-out goals at the club; we set little processes that will hopefully make the outcome possible. In that we have tackle rate, completion rates, turnover and lineouts, and all this other stuff that will hopefully mean we hit all our targets and more often than not we’ll win the game.” You get the sense that they believe if they take care of the details, the result will take care of itself, and rightly so.
And what of England? Robshaw had a quite unbelievable year, winning the captaincy under Stuart Lancaster’s new regime, and leading England to a highly respectable second in the Six Nations, losing only very narrowly to eventual Grand Slam champions Wales. It is hard to believe now, after such measured and mature performances, that he had just one cap when he was thrust into this new role. “It was incredible. Very nerve-racking as well, obviously, but a brilliant experience.”
What comes across more than anything else is his belief in the team around him. Be it Quins or England, he is convinced he is just part of the bigger picture, never laying the success at his own door. “I’ve got a great team around me, both in-game as well as the coaches. They’re all helping me to play, and look after certain things. They allow me to go out and play my own game.”
Even after a difficult summer tour to South Africa, Robshaw remains ebulliently positive about England’s prospects. “I think there’s a huge belief in that squad now. If you look at that second test in Ellis Park, they got off to a flying start but we got back to within a score, but by our standards we don’t see that as good enough, we want to go out there and win; that’s what we’re about.” There’s that competitiveness again; his demeanour is calm and composed, but that edge still finds its way in there.
Up until now, Robshaw has shown a staunch refusal to look further than next weekend’s game. So when I bring up the elephant in the room, next summer’s Lions tour, I can guess exactly what his response will be. “I’ve not really thought about it at all. That’s so far away, it all kind of takes care of itself – you have to make sure you’re playing well week in week out. You’ve got the internationals throughout the year, but at the moment it’s all about the Premiership.” And you get the sense that he will indeed play well week in week out, and despite the strength of all the nations in the back row, it’s hard to imagine him not being on that plane to Australia.
Throughout the interview, there is one word that, whether deliberately or subconsciously, Robshaw repeats time and again: belief. There is no doubt that he has plenty of it, and as club captain that surely rubs off on the rest of the squad. The comeback against Wasps is proof enough of that. For all his talk of taking one game at a time, it is obvious that Robshaw believes in his team and believes they can go on to win more this season. A scary prospect for the rest of the premiership.
Chris Robshaw spoke to The Rugby Blog on behalf of Maximuscle, Official Nutrition Partner of Harlequins.