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Under-fire Robshaw rides the rugby rapids

2015-10-02 12:25
Chris Robshaw (Gallo)

London - Chris Robshaw has been told he is not a leader and he is not the best player in his position, but England's under-fire captain accepts the ups and downs of international rugby.

Robshaw has had a welter of criticism - and some praise - thrown at him since he was named captain in 2012.

It has become intense since England's agonising 28-25 loss to Wales last weekend. His team must now beat old rivals Australia at Twickenham on Saturday if they are to keep their quarter-final hopes alive.

"As an international captain I've learnt in the past you take the rough with the smooth," the 29-year-old Harlequins player said.

"There's good times, there's bad times and you need to learn how to deal with it.

"You want to go out and prove a couple of people wrong."

And while past internationals and national newspapers lay into the England team, how does he cope?

"I take the dog for a walk. Everyone does something different," he told reporters Thursday.

Richie McCaw, the New Zealand captain, flies gliders, he explained. England international Tom Wood "likes shooting his bow and arrow" and Tom Youngs, another England player, enjoys farming.

"It doesn't have to be something extravagant and whatever it is, use it," said Robshaw.

On recent walks with his Affenpinscher, Rico, Robshaw may or may not have avoided the storm caused by England's defeat and his decision to reject taking a last minute penalty that could have tied the match.

Instead England attempted to force for a try and failed.

"I made that call," Robshaw said. "I wanted to go for the corner and to go for that win, unfortunately it didn't pay off."

England cannot afford a similar failure on Saturday. Another Pool A defeat could lead to them becoming the first World Cup hosts to go out in the pool stage.

It could be a career defining match for Robshaw and coach Stuart Lancaster.

"It's knock-out rugby for us. There's no second chance. It's all on the line, it's as simple as that," he acknowledged.

"There's a huge amount of support for us. I took the dog for a walk yesterday and you get people coming up, cheering you on and willing you on. That's what it's all about.

"We've got ourselves in the best possible frame of mind to deliver and now we need to."

Not all commentators agree.

His penalty decision has been cited as fresh evidence of Robshaw's lack of tournament awareness, when the pressure is on.

He spurned kickable penalties in a defeat by Australia in 2012 before going for the posts late on while losing 16-12 to South Africa in a match where the clock was against England.

Steve Borthwick, who faced similar flak when he was England's skipper between 2008 and 2010, defended Robshaw.

"Those decisions are always challenging," Borthwick said. "If England had scored and won the game it becomes a tremendous decision.

"Someone has to be there willing to take on the responsibility and making the tough decisions - and that's Chris."

Japan's former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones cast doubt on whether Robshaw was the kind of openside flank England need against Australia breakdown specialists David Pocock and Michael Hooper.

"He's not hard over the ball and he's not quick," wrote Jones in the Daily Mail newspaper.

"He does not have the specialist skills and the instinct as an openside that Pocock has," added Jones.

England do have a ball-winning back-row in Steffon Armitage, a key member of European champions Toulon's team and European Player of the Year for 2014.

Yet because Armitage plays overseas he is ineligible for England selection. Lancaster has been unwilling to use an "exceptional circumstance" get-out clause to pick the loose forward.

Lancaster's detractors say this is evidence he is more concerned with maintaining the peace between the Rugby Football Union and England's Premiership clubs than selecting his best side.

"Steffon Armitage is pretty hard and handy over the ball," said Jones. "I reckon needing a specialist openside at a World Cup should count as an exceptional circumstance, to allow Lancaster to pick him."

If England lose Saturday, Robshaw may find more time to walk his dog.

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