Neil Back airs concerns over Robshaw and Haskell

Duncan Bech 20/08/2015
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Concerned: Back.

Neil Back thinks England captain Chris Robshaw is not good enough to be considered among the top five opensides in the world and also has concerns over the focus of James Haskell.

Robshaw will lead the tournament hosts throughout this autumn’s World Cup and resumes his role as skipper for Saturday’s warm-up match against France in Paris after being rested for the 19-14 victory over the same foes last weekend.

Back is one of Robshaw’s most celebrated predecessors in England’s number seven jersey, winning 71 caps in an 11-year Test career that peaked when lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 2003.

While the World Cup winner rates Robshaw, he insists there are areas of his game that leave him trailing his openside rivals from other nations.

“Chris has improved and is a very good player, but he’s probably not in the top five opensides in the world,” said Back. “If you were putting together a world XV, he wouldn’t be under consideration.

“As a seven I’d like him to develop his offloading game so that he’s not taking the ball into contact so often. Robshaw’s a good ball carrier, but he takes it into contact too much and that doesn’t help the continuity of the team.

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“He’s improved over the ball, but if you’re talking about the world’s best players in that regard then he wouldn’t be in the conversation.

“But he has grown as a captain, becoming more assured and confident. His support lines have improved, as has his foot speed away from contact, rucks and the set piece.”

Back also has misgivings over Haskell, England’s blindside flanker at the Stade de France and a certainty to be one of the five back rows selected for the World Cup squad.

Haskell has set-up a health and fitness business complete with website, YouTube videos and a supplement range and recently appeared in Hello magazine alongside celebrity girlfriend Chloe Madeley.

“Haskell has really come into his own this year, although I’d personally wish he’d concentrate on what he does on the field more than what he does off it,” Back said.

“It’s just an impression I get and it may take away from his performance, even if it’s just a little bit. To be the best you must have balance in your life, but particularly in a World Cup year you must have full focus on being the best you can possibly be for England.

“When he maximises his potential there, then everything off the field will come. He may say he’s got the balance right and time will tell.

“If he contributes to a successful World Cup with England, then he can say he got the balance right. Over the ball he’s very strong and he usually wins in the contact area. He’s also good at getting turnovers.”

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Burgess to Farrell: Winners and losers from England's win over France

Sport360 staff 16/08/2015
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Stuart Lancaster will be left with plenty to reflect on ahead of the world cup.

England began preparations for the Rugby World Cup with a 19-14 victory over France at Twickenham that will have given head coach Stuart Lancaster plenty to reflect upon as he considers the make-up of his squad for the global showpiece.

Here PA examine the winners and losers emerging from the first of two Tests against Les Bleus.

WINNERS

SAM BURGESS
Age:
26

Position: Centre

Two big hits shook Twickenham and apart from a yellow card that exposed his naivety in the code he has been playing for only 10 months, he acquitted himself well. Did enough to warrant a second outing in Paris on Saturday – probably as a replacement – but France's second-string backline were accommodating.

HENRY SLADE
Age:
22
Position: Fly-half

An exciting display of real promise as Slade transferred the passing and decision-making skills that have been his calling card at club level to the Test arena. Exquisite hands set up the first try for Anthony Watson and made Jonny May's score possible. On this evidence, the 22-year-old is worth a punt for the World Cup.

ALEX GOODE
Age:
27
Position: Fly-half, Full-back

Any doubt that England might spring a surprise by taking only one specialist full-back to the World Cup was ended by Goode's virtuoso performance, the pinnacle of which was spotting space on the left wing before angling a perfect kick to the touchline for May to score. Roamed intelligently behind the backline and will challenge Mike Brown if he continues like this.

LOSERS

OWEN FARRELL
Age:
23
Position: Fly-half 

An average performance that cements George Ford's position as England's first-choice fly-half. Lancaster has said it will take something special to displace Ford and Farrell fell short of that against France. England lost direction in the final quarter as they were outmuscled up front and Farrell must take his share of the blame.

ROB WEBBER
Age:
29
Position: Hooker

On a night when England needed one of their two senior hookers to stand up and be counted, they were instead given cause for concern over the position. Dylan Hartley's absence has left them without a reliable line-out thrower and Webber failed to step into the breach and apply pressure to first choice Tom Youngs.

TOM WOOD
Age:
28
Position: Flanker

A favourite of the Lancaster regime because of his leadership, work-rate and line-out ability, but is competing with James Haskell to be England's starting blindside flanker and it was the Wasps captain who produced the more eye-catching work against France, including the steal that ended France's injury-time drive for a match-winning try.

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Scott 15/08/2015
New Zealand continued their fine record.

After All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup for the 13th time against Australia we look back at New Zealand's highlights in the cup.

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