independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Lancaster keeps faith with Robshaw despite criticism of captain’s leadership

Stuart Lancaster backed his own expertise as a student of human nature when first confronted by the England captaincy issue almost exactly a year ago, and precious little has happened in 12 breathlessly hectic months to persuade him that his initial decision requires revisiting.

The England coach has confirmed that Chris Robshaw, the Premiership-winning Harlequins flanker, will continue in the role for the forthcoming Six Nations, which begins against Scotland at Twickenham in 11 days' time.

Robshaw had his uncomfortable moments during the recent Autumn International series against the cream of the southern hemisphere crop: twice in consecutive matches, against Australia and South Africa, his on-field decision-making was called into question.

His critics accused him of being caught in two minds – sometimes three – over taking penalty shots at goal, and after the narrow defeat by the Springboks, there was much talk of a change, with the Northampton back-rower Tom Wood fast emerging as favourite.

But in reality, Robshaw was never under threat: Lancaster is not the sort to switch horses mid-race, and once the All Blacks were put in their place in the final match of the series, the skipper's position was doubly secure.

Wood, outstanding in that game against New Zealand, will remain a valued part of the senior players' group. So too will another captaincy candidate for the future, hooker Dylan Hartley, who led England in Robshaw's absence against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth last June.

However, the Northampton captain has enough on his plate dealing with the threat to his starting role posed by Tom Youngs of Leicester, one of the big winners during the autumn Tests.

Meanwhile, another England newcomer, Gloucester out-half Freddie Burns, will have a scan on damaged knee ligaments over the next couple of days, the results of which will determine his chances of playing a part against the Scots.

Burns, who won his first cap against the All Blacks and had himself a ball during the 17 minutes he spent on the field, picked up the injury while on European club duty against Mont-de-Marsan last week.

The fear is that he'll be out for around three weeks and, if that is confirmed, he will struggle to make the second Six Nations game against Ireland. Lancaster won't be overly concerned, given the form of Owen Farrell and Toby Flood, the other No 10s in the squad.

However, Burns is a different kind of operator and brings a welcome attacking dimension to the England midfield.

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