It is looking increasingly likely that the next captain of the England rugby team may be a young man who learned to play the game on school playing fields off Pampisford Road in South Croydon and with a local club at Hamsey Green: Chris Robshaw.
Flank forward Robshaw, 25, has been in outstanding form so far this season for his club, Harlequins, leading them on an impressive winning streak in the Premiership.
When the England elite squad was announced two weeks ago, the interim coach Stuart Lancaster made it clear that he wanted to make a clean break from the old regime which had returned from last autumn’s World Cup disappointed and largely discredited.
Northampton’s Tom Wood and Robshaw, both back-rowers, were strongly suggested as the likely new captain. Whoever is asked to lead England out at Murrayfield on February 4 for the Calcutta Cup could, if they make a good job of the task, find themselves leading the national side all the way through this year’s Six Nations tournament and on to the next World Cup, to be staged in this country in 2015.
Yesterday it was revealed that Wood has a foot injury which rules him out of the first two matches of the tournament, against Scotland (February 4) and Italy (February 11), and that could leave the way clear for the former Cumnor House prep schoolboy and Warlingham rugby club player Robshaw to become the next England captain.
It is 18 months since Inside Croydon highlighted Robshaw’s Croydon connections, including an interview with the 2009 Premiership player of the year while he was on an England tour.
Robshaw then paid tribute to the high quality coaching he received in the mini and junior section at Warlingham RFC, the London&SE Div 4 junior club that is based off the Limpsfield Road: “I was lucky to start at a very good club at a young age, learning my rugby in the Warlingham minis.
“My parents took me down to Warlingham rugby club, it was there and at Cumnor House school where I learned the basic skills of the game, how to play and where my enjoyment of the game started,” Robshaw said.
“I remember playing Minis, and I still have a little Minis runner-up trophy at home from the under-8s, so I guess I must have started when I was aged 6 or 7.”
Robshaw was clearly bitterly disappointed last summer when he was not included in England’s 30-strong World Cup squad, although the presence of the incumbent skipper Lewis Moody, who also prefers to wear the No7 shirt, was a major obstacle to the Quins man’s ambition. But Martin Johnson, the then coach, opted to go with tried and trusted players who returned to England looking tired and testy, possibly making Robshaw’s omission a perverse favour.
Such has been Robshaw’s impressive form this term that his Harlequins fly-half, All Black Nick Evans, has even compared him to New Zealand’s World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw, widely rated as one of the best openside flankers of all-time.
But with only a single senior cap to his name so far – although he has captained England touring sides on a couple of occasions – and despite the backing for the captaincy of Stuart Barnes, the former England international and now lead pundit for Sky Sports, Robshaw is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s such an honour, so flattering, to be talked about like that,” he said recently, “but as soon as you believe the hype, you forget the basics of what got you in that position in the first place and you can switch off. It’s about keeping my feet firmly on the ground.”
Robshaw categorises his style as “leading from the front”, which sees him charging into the danger areas of tackles and rucks with little regard for his own safety. Given his wretched record with injuries during the early part of his Harlequins career, it leaves his mother, who took him to his first training session at Hamsey Green 20 years ago, still fearful for his well-being.
“My mum watches my games through her fingers,” Robshaw said. “She still thinks I’m going to get hurt. Understandable when you consider what’s happened. I broke my foot twice in my first year, broke my leg the next. The year after, I did my hand then I had 10 months out when I did my anterior cruciate ligament.”
Robshaw is just the latest product of Croydon rugby to emerge at the top level of the game, along with the likes of Eliot Daley – the former Whitgift schoolboy, now an England under-20s star and regular for Wasps first XV this season – Danny Cipriani, former John Fisher player Paul Sackey, George Chuter and Scotland international Kyle Traynor.
If, as Warlingham rugby club hopes, coach Lancaster next week names Robshaw as the England captain for the game in Scotland, there’s sure to be a bumper order for Warly Wobbler placed with the brewery by the club’s bar manager ahead of the Calcutta Cup game.
- Tom Wood has what it takes to captain England, says Lawrence Dallaglio (guardian.co.uk)
- Chris Robshaw: Rugby stars must take responsibility for their actions (guardian.co.uk)
- England must develop a ball-poaching flanker says coach Graham Rowntree (independent.co.uk)