Australia v England: Chris Robshaw reflects on Test career before 50th game

Chris Robshaw

Chris Robshaw captained England 42 times before being replaced by Dylan Hartley

Few players have gone through as many ups and downs with England as flanker Chris Robshaw.

The 30-year-old has experienced some exhilarating highs in his international career – captaining his country 42 times, beating the All Blacks, and winning a Grand Slam.

But there have been crushing lows – missing out on the 2011 World Cup, a group-stage exit from the same tournament four years later, and humiliation in Cardiff in between.

As he prepares to win his 50th cap in Melbourne this weekend, Robshaw talks BBC Sport through some of the key moments as an England player.

Leading from the front

Robshaw made his England debut in Argentina in the summer of 2009, but had to wait until the Six Nations in 2012 for his second cap.

Stuart Lancaster made the Harlequins player captain for the away match against Scotland, and it was a role he would fulfil for the bulk of the next four years.

Robshaw recalls: “It was incredible. Firstly to be back in the England set-up after a big wait wondering if that second opportunity was going to come, and then to lead the guys out as captain, was an incredible feeling.

“The game wasn’t particularly high-scoring, but to go there and win and pick up the Calcutta Cup – it really was a special day.”


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Highlights – Scotland 6-13 England

Beating the All Blacks

In the autumn of 2012, England lost to both Australia and South Africa at Twickenham, piling pressure on Lancaster and his team before facing world champions New Zealand.

No-one predicted what would unfold on that December afternoon, as England crushed the All Blacks 38-21.

“That was probably one of my best moments in an England shirt,” says Robshaw. “We came off the back off a pretty tough couple of weeks, but I remember ‘Swing Low’ drowning out the Haka, which got the guys in the right mindset.

“Dan Carter missed a couple of kicks early on and we managed to take a good half-time lead. They scored a few tries after half-time and you sensed an eeriness around the crowd but Manu Tuilagi got an intercept and burst through; he was absolutely outstanding that game.

“You look now at how many times you play New Zealand and how many times you win – it doesn’t happen too often – so for us to get a great win like that was right up there.

“I’ve never really heard an atmosphere like it and for us, as players, it was one of those special, special moments.”


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England 38-21 New Zealand highlights

Humiliation in Cardiff

Just three months later, England had won four from four in the Six Nations and arrived in Cardiff full of confidence, one victory away from a first Grand Slam in a decade.

But Lancaster’s men were blitzed by an inspired Wales, losing 30-3 to surrender not just the Slam but also the title.

For players such as Robshaw, the defeat was to have serious repercussions, with Welshmen selected en masse for that summer’s Lions tour.

“That was an extremely tough time,” recalls Robshaw. “I wouldn’t say we underestimated them, but we probably didn’t know the intensity they would bring.

“There were probably three opportunities apiece – they took theirs and we didn’t – so it was a tough day, a tough aftermath as well. It was a difficult time.

“But you learn from those experiences. You want to play against the best teams in the best stadiums, and at that time they were pretty formidable.”


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Six Nations 2013 highlights: Wales 30-3 England

World Cup nightmare

England carried the expectation of a nation in the autumn of 2015, but what unfolded was the stuff of nightmares.

After an opening-night defeat of Fiji, England were beaten in sensational style by Wales the following weekend.

Robshaw controversially decided to kick a late penalty to the corner rather than take the three points, which would have drawn the game and – with the benefit of hindsight – kept England in the tournament.

Seven days later, Australia routed England 33-13 to knock the hosts out after just 16 days. The dead-rubber match against Uruguay was Lancaster’s last as coach, and Robshaw’s last as captain.

Robshaw says: “You look at the decision [against Wales], and that was a pretty tough one to take.

“The way Australia played that game, they were formidable and beat us comfortably.

“Going out of a World Cup at home isn’t an easiest place to be. People lost their jobs. It was a pretty tough time in an England shirt.”

Grand Slam glory

In the aftermath of England’s World Cup exit, Robshaw’s status both as captain and squad member looked precarious, especially as new coach Eddie Jones had been critical of his credentials in a newspaper column during the tournament.

He lost the captaincy to Dylan Hartley but retained his place in the team – switching from open-side flanker to blind-side – and started every match in England’s first Grand Slam success in 13 years.

“It was special in its own right,” he recalls. “We had tried to win a Grand Slam and pick up the Six Nations trophy for four years, finishing second each time, so it was an amazing feeling.

“To go through being so close for a number of years with those players, to see players grow each year, it was just fantastic.

“Of course I was unsure what to expect, who was coming in and how I would be viewed. So I was extremely glad to get another opportunity.

“We had won some big games but we had never been able to consistently back it up, so to finish the series with the grand prize, it was special.”

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Six Nations highlights: France 21-31 England

History in Melbourne?

Robshaw’s place in the starting XV was again questioned before last weekend’s first Test match in Brisbane, but he responded with an all-action performance as England beat Australia 39-28 in Queensland.

On Saturday, Robshaw and his team-mates have a chance to make history in Melbourne by winning a series in Australia for the first time.

“You want to be successful in your field, you want to win,” he says. “When you look back at your career, you want to have done some pretty special stuff and picked up a bit of silverware.

“To win a Grand Slam was great, but hopefully we will get all our detail right this weekend and go into this weekend and win a series down under, which would be an incredible thing.

“The mindset all week has been about going out there and finishing the job. We know they will come out all guns blazing, but so will we.”

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