It pays to have a short memory in sport and it certainly pays not to hold a grudge after the sun has set. At one point during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the current England coach Eddie Jones labelled Chris Robshaw, the then England skipper, “a club player” although even a club player might have gone for goal rather than the corner when another three points would have been enough to book England’s place in the quarter-finals.
That World Cup loss to Wales marked a nadir of sorts for Robshaw but since then he has boasted the bouncebackability of Tigger. Robshaw has transformed himself from a sluggish seven to a dynamic six and reaped the benefits under Jones, seeing his international career flourish and earning widespread support for his quiet dignity as he has gone about his business. Perhaps he needed the criticism to spur him on because ahead of the Six Nations the flanker has nothing but good things to say about the little Australian, who took over at England after the 2015 World Cup.
“His man management is probably the best I’ve seen out of anyone,” says Robshaw when asked about the boss. “He knows how to get the best out of people. Whether that is a couple of harsh words, to some responsibility, to a bit of fun, whatever it may be, he knows how to get the best out of the players. And I think we have seen that in the last year or so, players are continuing to progress and improve.”
It probably helps that Jones has changed his tune, claiming that England would win the World Cup with 15 Chris Robshaws in the team and branding the flanker’s contribution to this England team as “absolutely enormous”.
The England flanker is a brand ambassador for a new coconut-based isotonic drink, Coco Fuzion 100, which Robshaw insists is one of those incremental, 1 per cent things that help him stay ahead of the chasing pack and I can confirm that the raspberry flavour is yummy.
After his World Cup ignominy, there followed that long winning streak of 18 matches under Jones. England have still only lost one game on the Aussie’s watch, so Robshaw must be feeling redemption of some sort? “I have been asked this a lot and in all honesty it didn’t feel much different or feel like redemption or anything like that,” he insists. “I am always extremely proud to go out and play for my country whether as a player or a captain or a coach, whatever it may be.
“There was never any part of me reminiscing or thinking about it, I just played my game the way I wanted to play my game – trying help at the breakdown and help the backs in attack and things like that, and trying to chip in from time to time around the pitch, but it wasn’t some different moment for me. It was just trying to go about my business the same way.”
Jones’ effect on England has been such that the Red Rose brigade are now second only to the All Blacks in the world rankings and New Zealand’s visit in November is the most eagerly-awaited Test since the last World Cup.
Ahead of that comes the small matter of the Six Nations Championship which has been won by England in both of the last two seasons and, if you listen to Robshaw, this squad wants to make a little history this time out.
“We have all spoken as a group and our last message was that our aim was to go into the tournament and be the first team to win the tournament three years in a row.
“But I think the reason that people love it and players love playing in it is that any team can beat any team on the day. That is why is it so exciting to watch, it’s so tense. In every match in every game you need to be on it and if not…that is why grand slams and championships and whatever else are so hard to get hold of because it is so competitive.”
Robshaw comes from an era of English players who have yet to taste defeat by Scotland. The last time it happened was a decade ago in 2008, but the Scots are improving and will be hurting after conceding 61 points at Twickenham last season. Did the Englishman catch their November win over the Wallabies?
“I didn’t see the game, but I’ve got a couple of Scottish friends and they enjoyed it,” he replies. “It was a cracking result for Scotland. The Six Nations is finely poised and its going to be a very exciting tournament I think. All the home nations are playing well so its going to be an exciting year.”
England are missing some big guns in attack, but it is the other side of the coin which has improved out of sight. In the autumn series against Argentina, Australia and Samoa, England conceded just three tries in total and they kept that exciting Wallaby back line try-less.
Moreover England have their toughest looking opposition Ireland, the only side to have got one over on Eddie Jones’ team, at home where they have proved to be almost invincible.
“For us it’s brilliant playing at home and you see the obvious advantage,” says Robshaw, “with 80,000 people cheering for you rather than against you it’s a nice feeling. It does spur you on and so, yeah, playing Wales and Ireland at home, they are two tough games but, like I said, they are all tough games in the Six Nations. We have to go to Murrayfield and also to France and Rome as well. It’s just a brilliant tournament to be involved in.”
He may be a doubt for Rome but Robshaw should be fit for the Calcutta Cup clash.Does he enjoy the Murrayfield atmosphere?
“I sort of made my captaincy debut there and I always remember it being a tough place to go and play,” he says. “Even in the last couple of years it’s always been a tough arena where you have to battle hard for the victories.”