STUART Lancaster offered captain Chris Robshaw his full support in a meeting at the England team hotel last night.
Robshaw’s decision-making is in the spotlight again after he instructed Owen Farrell to kick for goal when England trailed South Africa 16-12 with two minutes remaining. Last week, Robshaw was criticised for opting not to kick a penalty but to go for the try as England chased the game against Australia. On Saturday, Robshaw believed a quick three points from Farrell would still leave England time to gather the restart, get downfield and win the game.
But Robshaw’s authority was cast into doubt when Farrell openly disagreed with the decision to go for the posts, urging him to kick for the corner. Farrell kicked the goal but Mouritz Botha fumbled the restart and South Africa won 16-15.
“International sport is tough. It’s tough for coaches, it’s tough for players, it’s tough for people if they make a mistake,” head coach Lancaster said after the game. “It happens all the time and what you’ve got to do is make sure people are supported. There is a trust that things will be discussed behind closed doors in the right way and we move on. You look at the decisions the players make and you want to support them first and foremost, which is what I will always do.
“I spend time with Chris as captain. It is important that the head coach and captain have that relationship. Last Sunday we had a good chat in camp before everyone else turned up and we will do the same again tomorrow night.”
Lancaster put the penalty disagreement down to England’s relative inexperience, although he confirmed Farrell should have followed captain’s orders. Robshaw’s decision received the support of Sir Clive Woodward, Will Greenwood and Brian Moore but the debate over whether to go for the posts ate up valuable time.
“I certainly haven’t seen anything that led me to believe [there was insubordination],” Lancaster said after the game. “The captain makes the decision and everyone abides by it.”
Next up for England are world champions New Zealand, who cruised to a 33-10 victory over Wales on Saturday. Like Scotland, Wales slumped to three autumn Test defeats and stand-off Rhys Priestland has shouldered much of the blame for the poor campaign, claiming: “I have been playing with blinkers on.”
Priestland was a pivotal figure as Wales reached last year’s World Cup semi-finals but his form has dipped, coinciding with Wales losing successive games against Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand this month and now finding themselves clinging to a place among the world’s top eight teams.
Priestland said: “I have been pretty down over the last couple of weeks. After Samoa, I did not want to leave the flat or want to see anyone. I felt I had let people down. The poor performances against Samoa and Argentina were a lot to do with me because I have been playing with blinkers on. I buried my head in the sand and did not leave the flat.”
In Dublin, Ireland scored seven tries on their way to a 46-24 win over Argentina and, in so doing, secured their top-eight ranking ahead of next month’s draw for the 2015 World Cup. In the other autumn Tests, France beat Samoa 22-14, while Australia withstood an impressive fightback from Italy to shade the hosts 22-19 in Florence.