IT is raining red roses this week and it is not just down to Valentine’s Day.
After England’s defeat of Ireland in a sodden Aviva Stadium, plaudits for Stuart Lancaster’s Red Rose are coming hard and fast.
The concept of forbidden love is popular with those not at the receiving end of requests of “Be my Valentine!” often taking solace in tales of doomed love.
The ultimate story of star-crossed lovers is Romeo and Juliet. If in the world of rugby, there is a forbidden love object; right now it would be England.
This is easy to comprehend as an Irish fan, as it was those boys in mud-splattered white that trampled over Irish Grand Slam dreams.
Yet New Zealander Lions coach Warren Gatland has voiced his reservations over embracing the English, despite the successful rehabilitation of the image of the side on and off the pitch under the stewardship of Stuart Lancaster.
It would seem last year’s Grand Slam winning coach with Wales is playing the role of disapproving father Lord Capulet to his beloved Lions. And England is Romeo.
Despite Gatland saying he believes there will be a sizeable English contingent, he fears that the English players will attract a media circus similar to during the World Cup in New Zealand. He also worries that the English troops among the Lions ranks could be subject to negative publicity from the “Pommie” hating Aussie press.
In the build up to last weekend’s encounter, talk of “the aulde enemy” and “English arrogance” was bandied about by some media.
The question of the opposition loosing a certain arrogance under Lancaster was put to Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip, who gave us some advise, “You would have to go meet them yourself and talk to them.”
He explained he spent time in the company of England captain Chris Robshaw at the Six Nations launch, describing him with an expression of genuine warmth as a “lovely guy” and that “I can’t say a bad word about him.”
I followed Heaslip’s guidance to see the English in action in a press conference on the eve of the match. Despite the constraints of a media conference, I would concur that the English captain seems a likeable sort.
The most striking aspect of Robshaw’s character was how unassuming he seemed, despite his on field prowess shown at its devastating best last weekend with a man of the match performance.
Some successful captains such as New Zealand’s Richie McCaw or Wales’ Sam Warburton seem much older than their years such is the intensity they exude.
Robshaw, however, appeared to be what he is; a 26 year-old. He spoke articulately with confidence but there was a hint of hesitancy that seemed natural and relatable considering the circumstances of what he faced the following day. There was a definite air of humility.
Perhaps, these qualities come from the journey the Harlequins captain has taken. Before Lancaster bestowed him with the armband he had only one cap to his name.
Robshaw is not unused to conquering adversity. His father passed away after a heart attack when he was five years old. He has spoken openly about his dyslexia and studied for a degree in business management at Roehampton University.
During the November test window, the flanker’s captaincy credentials were questioned after he opted to kick for goal rather than kick to touch in the dying moments against the Springboks, when a try would have narrowly won his side the game. The following week these doubts were silenced after leading England to a dazzling victory over an out of sorts All Blacks.
It is interesting to note that Robshaw assumed the captaincy of Harlequins when the club was trying to rebuild its reputation after the “Bloodgate” scandal and of Lancaster’s “new” England. Since, he has helped guide both sides towards on field success and renewed credibility.
Conor O’Shea has been a champion for Robshaw’s cause as he installed him as Harlequins skipper. So, maybe this Irish seal of approval makes him an Englishman we can openly admire?
All this plus his current form would seem to not just put him in the frame for the Lions openside berth but also the captaincy.
Some Celtic commentators may dismiss the Englishman’s chances due to his lack of previous Lions experience. Also, with strong Welsh and English presence in the coaching staff, politically it would make sense to appoint an Irish captain.
If Robshaw does not captain the team in red, he will no doubt be an integral part of the leadership group.
Mind you, Gatland may not be impressed with the English media’s coverage of some home truths about this perceived hard man disclosed by his girlfriend classical singer Camilla Kerslake. These involve a penchant for hoovering and sporting onesies when away from rugby!
As poor Juliet opined, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It would appear from some perspectives that shamrock, a leak or thistle would smell sweeter than the Red Rose.