Saturday 23 September 2017

England’s Chris Robshaw makes late run to be Lions King

Duncan Bech

Each completed round of the RBS 6 Nations nudges Chris Robshaw closer to the Lions captaincy, yet only a year ago he feared how his England team-mates would respond to his leadership.

With a solitary cap in the bank, Robshaw was named skipper before last season's championship and has retained the post since.

Man of the match awards against Ireland and France - marked by a 'Butch the Bulldog' fluffy toy - have propelled a player who as recently as January was considered an unlikely Test starter for the Lions into the outstanding candidate to lead the summer tour to Australia.

It has been an eventful 12 months consisting of fluctuating fortunes, but the 26-year-old can only remind himself of how far he has come.

"When I was first appointed it was one of those situations where you're captaining a team containing guys who are 10 years older than you who have played 30 times for their country and gone on X amount of tours. You're thinking: 'Are they actually going to listen to me?'" he said.

"You always look back to the guys you've been under and try to take bits of their style but, potentially, you always try and do too much.

"When I first became captain at Harlequins I tried to overdo things and tried to do everyone's job and make every decision. Nick Easter spoke to me at the time and said: 'Don't worry, we're here to help'.

"(Former England cricket captain) Andrew Strauss came in and spoke to us as a squad of players when we were in Leeds and said a similar thing, that when he first got into the role he tried to overdo it.

"It's about delegating and sharing the workload. We've got this leadership group and key people who do it well for their clubs."

Robshaw's impressive record of nine wins in 14 games as captain - a sequence that includes a 38-21 triumph over New Zealand - has justified his promotion under coach Stuart Lancaster.

But there have been challenging moments, with his decision-making against Australia and South Africa last year the subject of intense scrutiny and even ridicule.

"There's been good times, there's been tough times, there's been a lot of learning. The more you do something the more experience you get," he said.

"The autumn was my first time in that kind of dark, negative place. As an international captain you see it in other sports and you see managers under pressure and you don't really appreciate what it's like until you experience it yourself.

"It makes you a stronger person when you come out the other side. The players, in particular, were brilliant during the whole of that stage. A week is a long time in sport, never mind a couple of months."

Robshaw's club Harlequins, the Aviva Premiership champions, have introduced some novel methods to help prepare players for leadership.

"At the club as a leadership group they try and take you out of your comfort zone so that if an issue does come up you're calm and composed," he said.

"About two years ago we did a stand-up comedy thing at Quins; this year we tried our hand at a little bit of acting.

"We had an acting teacher who came in and talked to us about body language and how to express yourself in certain ways. It's about doing something different that keeps your mind ticking over.

"He spoke about the skills you needed on a stage and how to get things across if people are making a lot of noise or if they're quiet and not responsive.

"At the time you're thinking: 'I look like a complete idiot'. Of course you don't always get it first time, you might make a fool of yourself trying to give it a go, but once you find out what works well for you can build on that and hopefully get a type of style."

One of the criticism levelled against Robshaw is that he is not a genuine openside, more a six-and-a-half, but it is a debate that the player himself is reluctant to enter.

"It doesn't really bother me. We don't really talk about that stuff. As a player you just want to be in that starting team," he said

"These days it's a lot about the balance of the side and what the side needs. Am I a natural seven? Who knows."

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