John­son calls for coun­try to unite be­hind Rob­shaw

For­mer coach tells why he left him out in 2011 Flanker joins leg­end on 39 caps as leader tonight

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - By Gavin Mairs RUGBY NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Martin John­son wants the coun­try to unite be­hind Chris Rob­shaw, in­sist­ing the Eng­land cap­tain is the right man to lead the bid for a first World Cup tri­umph since 2003.

Rob­shaw is poised to join John­son as Eng­land’s sec­ond long­est serv­ing cap­tain at Twick­en­ham tonight. It will be the open­side’s 39th cap as cap­tain – out of 40 ap­pear­ances – and only Will Car­ling (59) has led Eng­land more times.

De­spite the Har­lequins flanker be­ing Stu­art Lan­caster’s first choice since he was ap­pointed as Eng­land cap­tain at the age of 25 with just one cap in Jan­uary 2012, Rob­shaw’s lead­er­ship, and even his place, have come un­der in­tense scru­tiny on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

How­ever, the man who cap­tained Eng­land to their sole World Cup win in Aus­tralia 12 years ago says Rob­shaw has shown enough char­ac­ter and de­ter­mi­na­tion to be­come one of the great cap­tains. John­son said: “He was put in there at a very young age and when he was in­ex­pe­ri­enced, but has done a great job.

“He had some tough calls – those re­ally tough cap­taincy de­ci­sions to make early in his ca­reer around 2012. He got a bit of crit­i­cism and had peo­ple knock him, and peo­ple tell him this should hap­pen and that should hap­pen, but he has got on with it. He has been there and played con­sis­tently for Eng­land and been through what we all go through when we play Test matches – some great wins and some dis­ap­point­ing defeats.

“We have all done that – Will Car­ling, John­son, [Lawrence] Dal­laglio – all the cap­tains have done that, and he is still there do­ing well. I think we should get be­hind him and look for­ward to the tour­na­ment.”

John­son, who was Eng­land man­ager at the 2011 World Cup, gave Rob­shaw his in­ter­na­tional de­but two years ear­lier, hav­ing first iden­ti­fied his tal­ent when he was play­ing on the blind­side for Har­lequins. “Chris was a six when I first got the job,” said John­son, who re­turned to coach­ing in July to take a three-day camp at Maiden­head Rugby Club as part of Sam­sung’s school of rugby.

“Will Skin­ner was play­ing seven at Har­lequins. John Wells and my­self had a con­ver­sa­tion with Dean [Richards, then the club’s di­rec­tor of rugby] and we said that if he was go­ing to play Test rugby it was not go­ing to be at six, be­cause he is more of a seven at Test level. We picked him in 2009 and he ac­tu­ally played six in Ar­gentina [dur­ing the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions tour of South Africa.]”

John­son did not se­lect Rob­shaw for the World Cup in New Zealand be­cause of the com­pe­ti­tion from the then Eng­land cap­tain Lewis Moody, Tom Croft, Nick Easter and cur­rent World Cup play­ers Tom Wood and James Haskell. He ad­mit­ted that it was not a “black and white de­ci­sion”.

“At that point he [Rob­shaw] wasn’t mak­ing the team,” John­son said. “He had two guys who had a lot more in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence than him – Lewis was cap­tain and play­ing re­ally well at seven at the time. Then the other play­ers we had – Tom Croft was a Bri­tish Lion, Tom Wood cov­ered that Croft po­si­tion and we had Nick Easter at No 8, and James could cover ev­ery­where.

“Also we only had a squad of 30 and we had to take five props, given the in­jury history of some of our props at that point. Be­ing so far away we felt we couldn’t take just four props.

“It squeezed a po­si­tion and those de­ci­sions are never quite black and white. At that point our back row was Tom Croft, Nick and Lewis, so it was well bal­anced and we had just won the cham­pi­onship.”

What im­pressed the for­mer Eng­land man­ager was Rob­shaw’s re­sponse to be­ing left out, which re­vealed that he had the right qual­i­ties to be cap­tain. “Chris was a promis­ing player and we knew he was a good char­ac­ter. He was frus­trated and he thought, ‘What do I have to do?’

“But he had the op­por­tu­nity. He came up to our train­ing camp and it was pretty com­pet­i­tive and he missed out. But like I said to a num­ber of play­ers at that point, it is your first knock that you have had in your ca­reer, and if you can’t han­dle it, then you are not go­ing to go very far.

“Chris did the right thing, he got on with it, forced his way into the team and now he has got 40 caps, so good on him. I am not say­ing I was def­i­nitely right with that call, but that’s the way we saw it at that point. Good on him. If he said, ‘Stuff you Johnno, I will show you’, then great. That is ex­actly what you want him to do.”

Tight call: Martin John­son says it was a tough de­ci­sion to omit Chris Rob­shaw

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