Having grown up, and grown, with Harlequins, there was little doubt that Chris Robshaw would commit his future to the club – and probably the remainder of his career.
But a decade on since his Premiership debut with his boyhood heroes, the 31-year-old is determined to make the next three years the most memorable and help heal the scars of past pain.
After a difficult five years since their sole title success, Robshaw believes he is with the best Quins side of his time. And England too, having played a crucial part in the 18-match winning run that equalled New Zealand’s tier one world record.
His aims and objectives will remain secret, but he says: “There’s a fair amount on the list. As a player and person, you want to be successful and achieve. I’ve won a couple of trophies, but I want to win a lot more with club and country.
“When you look back at your career they are the things you will miss, playing in finals, playing in big games, because they don’t come around so often. I want to embrace this moment.
“It has been a bit up and down in recent years with Quins, but I firmly believe our squad now is better than it has been. Saracens are the benchmark, they’ve won the last two European Champions Cups and are the target for everyone.”
Under Eddie Jones, England are in a good place too after their fine run and back-toback Six Nations titles. Despite being shorn of key men on the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, they still recorded a 2-0 summer series win in Argentina.
“It’s an extremely exciting time for English rugby,” former captain Robshaw tells Sport360°. “You look at the squad that went to Argentina and the depth coming through. You’ve got the Lions guys to come back into the equation. That’s an extremely privileged position we are in, to show that if someone is injured or out, someone else steps in and plays to an extremely high level. We are always challenging each other to be better – and where Eddie puts us.
“He challenges you in the right way. His man management is extremely good. He knows how to get the best out of people and give you the confidence. You’ve seen it out there in our games with guys playing some of their best rugby.
“There’s a huge amount of youth and that’s a very exciting prospect. There is that mix with experience. A lot of players have now been around the world, know what it takes to win and perform in the big moments.
“I’ve been speaking to a couple of the guys who went on the Lions tour from our place (Quins), and they said it was great to work with different players, different coaches. That’s the important thing, to see how other players operate. You learn.”
Robshaw is still eager to improve and remain a cornerstone of the England backrow at least until the 2019 Rugby World Cup – and the chance of redemption after his hopes of leading the team to glory on home soil in 2015 ended with a shock pool stage exit.
Criticism subsequently followed for the flanker and coach Stuart Lancaster, who was replaced by Australian Jones and he, in turn, appointed Dylan Hartley as new skipper.
Yet Robshaw’s consistently strong displays have shown he is revelling without the leadership role for England or Quins as he admits: “Of course there’s more pressure as captain. You are the guy at the top and the buck stops with you.
“You have to make sure the team is in the right place, everything is covered that you’ve been doing during the week. It’s not a burden, but there’s more responsibility and roles for you to fulfil.
“I think not being captain has allowed me to relax a bit more and focus on my individual game. Of course you can help others, but have the individual focus to improve your game.
“I’m enjoying my game at the moment. I’m lucky enough to play in an England team where Dylan has captained extremely well and James Horwill is a good appointment as captain at Quins. I feel there’s a lot more rugby left in me and I still want to win stuff with Quins and go to the next World Cup.
“Redemption? Of course it will be. First and foremost I want to make the squad. Look, the last World Cup didn’t go the way we wanted. Myself and a lot of players want to go there and have a shot at it again.
“It was an extremely tough time and took a fair amount of time to get over. It’s a scar I will always wear I think. And it’s given me that experience, a painful one, but one I will improve from, one I will continue to move forward from, and evolve and learn.
“There’s a lot of people around you, whether it’s [fiancee] Camilla, family, friends, team-mates, they were all a massive part of putting it behind me. Then there’s one point where you decide enough’s enough and let’s move forward and try to improve.”
Robshaw’s renaissance since the 2015 showpiece has earned respect and continuing to inspire with England has helped overcome any disappointment in missing out on the Lions tours in 2013 to Australia and this summer’s tour to New Zealand.
“I don’t get involved in that,” he adds. “I saw the New Zealand series, I’m still a rugby man. But I went to Argentina and really enjoyed that tour. Now I’m looking forward to this season.
“It’s not until you get to this kind of age when people start talking about when you are going to finish your career. When you are playing, you just live for the moment and don’t think about that end.
“It is not only how your body is, but your mind. I was speaking to [Thierry] Dusautoir after the Barbarians game and asked how he was [after retiring at 35] and he said it’s tough mentally and physically now. Eventually it takes its toll. “But I’m still driven, I still love the game.”
AT THE BREAKDOWN
One to watch this season
Francis Saili at Quins, he looks special and has worked hard since he came to us this summer.
Best player played with
Owen Farrell. He’s always been good, but now he’s going to that next level.
Richie McCaw. Always tough, and always played well.
Off the pitch
Still the coffee shop, Josie’s, in Winchester, and we’re about to open our second one in Petersfield. I love my golf and I support Arsenal – hopefully they have a good year.
The Wallabies and the Springboks both had years to forget in 2016. The “Wobblies” played 15 Tests for six wins while the Boks fared even worse playing 12 and winning just four.
Australia lost a home series against England for the first time, while the Boks recorded unwanted “firsts” in defeats to Italy and Ireland in South Africa.
The way both nations responded to their dire records, however, has been markedly different. In South Africa coach Allister Coetzee, in his first year in charge, faced repeated calls for the axe.
SARU launched an enquiry into his performance and he literally scraped through by the seat of his green and gold tracksuit, and only under the proviso that he made changes to his coaching team.
So out when defence coach Chean Roux and in came two former Boks with excellent coaching credentials – Cheetahs’ Franco Smith in attack and the unorthodox Brendan Venter in defence.
The difference has been stark with the Boks comfortably beating France 3-0 in the June Test series and then notching up an impressive win against Argentina last Saturday.
We won’t really know where they are until they face the All Blacks on September 16 but at this stage there seems to be an improvement.
Cheika, due to the Wallabies good form in 2015, didn’t face as much scrutiny with a cursory, “we’ll do better next year” offered as an excuse.
There was no pressure for a change of direction to his management team so Stephen Larkham remained attack coach and Nathan Grey remained defence coach although both facets were well under par last year.
The reason for this is the ARU, somewhat prematurely, extended Cheika’s contract in May 2016 until the end of World Cup 2019.
Due to the ARU’s financial problems, they simply can’t afford to pay Cheika’s lucrative contract out so he could lose every game from now until the 2019 and his job would be safe.
As a direct result the Wallabies have started 2017 where they left off last year: a loss at home to Scotland, a scratchy win over Italy and a thrashing at the hands of the All Blacks.
Change is hard but the Boks had the courage to make it. Not so the Wallabies. The effect of both responses showing on the field.
Excitement ahead of the new UAE rugby season ratcheted up several notches this week with the announcement of the 2017/18 fixtures.
The season proper begins in under a month’s time, with the West Asia Premiership, UAE Conference and UAE Community League all getting underway on September 22.
The two standout fixtures in the top-tier West Asia Premiership will be reigning champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins traveling to Jebel Ali to take on Dragons in a repeat of last season’s superb UAE Premiership final – which Quins won 30-20 to claim an unprecedented quintuple of silverware.
The other eye-catching fixture is Dubai Exiles’ trip to Sports City to take on newly-established Dubai Eagles. Eagles, eastablished just a matter of weeks ago, have nevertheless seen numbers swell in that time.
They held their first on-pitch training session earlier this week, with 32 male players registered and 44 in total committed to the club.
Director of rugby Sean Carey will be going up against his former team, who he left after last season in order to set up the country’s newest club, and he was able to see the irony in coming up against them on opening day.
“Well, Exiles first up, what are the odds. I hope they go easy on us,” joked Carey, the 29-year-old Irishman who made his UAE bow in May at the Asia Rugby Championship in Kuala Lumpur.
“Training is good, numbers are building slowly. We had our first pitch session on Monday night so it’s coming along nicely in time for the new season.”
Former team-mate Durandt Gerber will be looking forward to the new campaign more than most players. The classy South African fly-half endured a nightmarish 2016/17 campaign with Exiles, both individually and collectively.
Exiles, West Asia Premiership and UAE Premiership champions two seasons ago, plummeted in defence of their two titles. Jacques Benade’s men slumped to fifth and fourth-placed finishes respectively to ring in their 50th year on a hollow note.
Gerber, meanwhile, suffered a separated shoulder on opening day 12 months ago in a narrow win over Doha, ruling him out until January. By the time he returned Exiles’ season was already sliding into mediocrity, so he is determined to right the wrongs of a wretched campaign.
“I can’t wait for it all to kick off on September 22,” said the 34-year-old – a member of Italy’s pre-Rugby World Cup training squad in 2011.
“I’m happy the fixtures finally came out and we know what the season will look like. It is definitely an unknown first up with the Eagles coming into the league as nobody really knows who will be paying for them yet or what to expect.
“But I’m looking forward to playing them in the first game at Sports City, a new team brings new challenges and it will be good to play against an unknown team.”