Game-by-Game Analysis of Chris Robshaw's 1st 2 Years as England Captain

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014

Game-by-Game Analysis of Chris Robshaw's 1st 2 Years as England Captain

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Following the announcement that Chris Robshaw will again captain England in their Six Nations trials this year, now's the time to reflect upon the flanker's path to prominence.

    It's been two years since the Harlequins figure was first given the leadership reins of Stuart Lancaster's side, forming a consistent coach/captain cohesion that's climbed the rungs of the international ladder.

    But just how effective has Lancaster's man been on the individual spectrum?

    We've looked back over the past 24 months, analysing Robshaw's international performances when donning the proverbial armband.

Feb. 4, 2012: Scotland 6-13 England

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    Robshaw gained his first captaincy of the England side in just his second appearance for the national team, where a 2012 Six Nations opener at Murrayfield gave the visitors more problems than they might have anticipated.

    With Tom Croft at blindside, the back rower was left to play in a less natural role of the No. 7 jersey, but Robshaw's strengths shone through regardless of the position he was given.

    The openside registered 15 tackles against the Scots, tied with Mouritz Botha as the second-highest amount among the English and second only to Dylan Hartley in the match as a whole.

    Robshaw's nerves were quite evident given the occasion. He carried more regularly than any other player on his team, striving to make yardage in the loose, but it came to little.

    That being said, Robshaw did well to marshal a new-look England in tough conditions, and he could have set up a Chris Ashton try were the winger's timing just slightly better on the left wing, missing a lofted pass as the ball whipped through his grasp.

Feb. 11, 2012: Italy 15-19 England

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    Robshaw was again in a probationary period as captain for the trip to the Stadio Olimpico in his second Six Nations outing, adapting further to his role on the openside.

    It was here that Robert Barbieri gave the Harlequins player a stern run for his money in Rome, as Italy walked into the halftime break 12-6 up.

    However, this was an early testament to Robshaw's value not just in terms of on-field impact, but his voice as leader and motivator in the squad.

    Pressing a higher line than any other in his squad, the flanker screwed the tension on the hosts and once again finished with an exemplary tackle total, this time standing at 16, where he failed to miss a man when bearing down upon them.

    With that leading example in front of them, England would go on to outscore the Azzurri 13-3 in the second half, keeping their tournament hopes alive.

Feb. 25, 2012: England 12-19 Wales

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    Having passed the initial test in the role, Robshaw was retained as captain by Lancaster and played his first game as captain at Twickenham against Wales.

    However, like many aspects of the game, things wouldn't go according to plan, as the 27-year-old fell short on the big stage, despite pitching in with his finest attacking performance to date at the time.

    Put up against Sam Warburton, it was the Welsh captain who won this particular head-to-head, with Dan Lydiate also adding England's back-row woes.

    Among the standout moments for Robshaw was being smashed in the tackle by Warren Gatland's onrushing No. 6, forcing Robshaw to give up a penalty in the process in a more innocuous outing.

Mar. 11, 2012: France 22-24 England

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    The greatest result of the Lancaster era of the time, England's March victory at the Stade de France in 2012, served as vindication for the coach, whose young stars shone to edge a win by the tightest of margins.

    That being said, it wasn't one of Robshaw's best outings individually.

    Instead, it was Tom Croft who rose to the fore, particularly in an attacking sense, to make the difference for the English, while the openside was relegated to more of a morale-boosting responsibility.

    It worked in its own way, and Robshaw would again make more tackles than any other player on the day—13 on this occasion—but it would be considered understandable to think that a more rounded product was expected. 

Mar. 17, 2012: England 30-9 Ireland

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    In the final encounter of England's 2012 Six Nations competition, there was little the team could hope to do other than do their best against Ireland and hope that Wales dropped points against France earlier in the day.

    It wouldn't pan out that way, but Robshaw at least ensured his side held up their side of the bargain, and the Twickenham team stood firm to record an encouragingly confident win over the Irish.

    At this stage of the tournament, the frantic traits of Robshaw's game had washed away, and it was clearer that less weight on his shoulders made for a more fluid, natural development.

    For the third time in his first six international appearances, Robshaw led on the front foot, made more tackles than any other player on the pitch and almost completely did away with any offensive duties, known not to be the strongest area of his game.

June 9, 2012: South Africa 22-17 England

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    In 2012, England's mid-year tour brought them to South Africa, where Robshaw would feature in two of his side's three Tests against the Springboks, missing the third encounter with a cracked thumb.

    Predictably so given where they were playing, it was all about the physical edge in Durban, and it was Heyneke Meyer's side who ultimately possessed it.

    For 40 minutes, Robshaw led his troops well but would eventually find himself outmatched as much by opposite man Willem Alberts as he did the rest of the South African squad.

June 16, 2012: South Africa 36-27 England

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    The main aspect of 2012's second loss to South Africa for Robshaw will be that his side failed in beginning the match with the necessary initiative, a blame that must be linked with his preparations to an extent.

    Having said that, the England figure must be commended for rousing his side in the second period, which they won 17-11, but the damage was unfortunately done by that point.

    Thanks to a lack of Springboks organisation, England would win the second period 17-11, where Robshaw smelled blood before urging his team to go for the jugular.

    Of course, the loss was as attributable to the team as a whole rather than any one man, but Robshaw was just one of those who fell short of the mark.

Nov. 10, 2012: England 54-12 Fiji

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    Far from his most gruelling examination as captain, there's not much that any player of the English international standard can take away from a drubbing of Fiji.

    Nevertheless, England opened their 2012 QBE Internationals with a confident victory over their Southern Hemisphere visitors, with Robshaw ensuring that his men kept their egos to themselves.

    Again, the captain would play a full 80 minutes in a match that was more about maintaining the mindsets of those around him above all else, but Robshaw's display was a spotless one in kind.

Nov. 17, 2012: England 14-20 Australia

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    Indiscipline was the name of England's game during their first true test of their November mettle with Robshaw as chief.

    The forward wasn't as guilty as some of those in the back line when it came to giving Berrick Barnes kicking opportunities, but Robshaw did find himself getting on the wrong side of certain situations.

    The flanker's eagerness in the ground game shone through, albeit sometimes going too far in the wrong direction against an out-of-form Wallabies side.

    And it was now of all occasions that England could have done with their openside giving that extra girth with ball in hand, but Robshaw's refined style of play didn't offer it, and England suffered down the line.

    From and England perspective, Robshaw's biggest criticism may have fallen upon his penalty decisions, a crucial part of any captain's repertoire, where the decisions to go for touch instead of kicking at goal didn't go down too well with some.

Nov. 24, 2012: England 15-16 South Africa

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    One of Robshaw's darkest hours as England's shot caller, the decision-making controversy of a week before, once again took up the headlines following England's one-point loss to South Africa.

    Trailing by four points and with only a couple of minutes left to go, Owen Farrell was instructed by his skipper to take his shot from the tee, but it would only put the hosts within a point of their visitors.

    Twickenham's chorus of boos from the home support was evidence enough of exactly how the decision was taken by those in attendance, and Robshaw admitted in the fallout that any blame rested solely upon him.

    Fair dues to the captain for accepting any mistakes that may have come as a result of his calls, but a bitter pill to swallow may have been avoided altogether, and Robshaw's lack of experience in the role shone through.

Dec. 1, 2012: England 38-21 New Zealand

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    If the week before was sour, then there was no sweeter way to turn things around than with a 38-21 thumping of the reigning Rugby World Cup champions.

    If nothing else, this was a sign of Robshaw's resolute character, bouncing back from an extremely difficult fortnight to thrive alongside the rest of his starring Englishmen.

    Although Robshaw started slowly himself, the No. 7 grew into his role well, forming a cohesive bond with Tom Wood and popping up all over the pitch to deny the All Blacks their much-wanted yardage.

    An extremely high note for Robshaw to end 2012 on.

Feb. 2, 2013: England 38-18 Scotland

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    Now a year in the role of captain, Robshaw began 2013's international season the right way, showing that regardless of what number's on his back, he can be the back-row utility that bonds the pack together.

    At this juncture, the captain showed that he was perhaps adding traits to his game that were once amiss, carrying for no less than 51 metres against Scotland.

    Defensively, the flanker was surprisingly suspect and missed a number of challenges that wasn't like his normal self, but it hardly seemed to matter as he continued to make turnovers and made an impressive five offloads.

    Very eager in his build-up play on this occasion, constantly striving to be the first receiver in the loose and to good effect at that.

Feb. 10, 2013: Ireland 6-12 England

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    Cooler heads prevailed at the Aviva Stadium, where Robshaw was forced to contend with a James Haskell sin bin in the process of helping his side to victory against Ireland.

    Getting the better of Declan Kidney's side for the second time in succession, Robshaw kept the likes of Craig Gilroy, Simon Zebo and Rob Kearney at bay, pitching in with a magnificent 17 tackles.

    However, this was a performance where despite all the physical plaudits that Robshaw will have earned, it was his influence over the rest of the squad that paved the way to victory.

    To date, one of the back row's most impressive displays on the international stage.

Feb. 23, 2013: England 23-13 France

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    Backs included, only one other English player registered more metres made with ball in hand than Robshaw did against France last year.

    The Twickenham stage once again forced a leading performance out of the Premiership veteran, who picked off the base of the maul and made himself available in space time and again with a view to breaking down Les Bleus' defence.

    And it was a tactic that came off with aplomb, too, as France were left stunned by Robshaw's pristine display, which also saw him take over at the line-out.

    The visiting outfit left a few bruises on their England counterparts early on, but Robshaw would again rally the troops, stepping into the fray and once again wresting the result in favour of his side, with 10 tackles made for good measure.

Mar. 9, 2013: England 18-11 Italy

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    Danny Care's spooned box kick would risk putting England to shame on home soil against the Italians in last year's Six Nations, but it wasn't to be as the Twickenham hosts held on for the win.

    That being said, it was an unremarkable outing for Robshaw.

    The captain was far from the only one of Lancaster's players who failed to impress, but dropped balls and ineffective carrying were aspects attributable to the openside as much as anyone else. 

Mar. 16, 2013: Wales 30-3 England

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    The biggest losing margin that Robshaw has captained to as of yet came in last year's massively anticipated Cardiff clash, a fixture that would decide who won the 2013 Six Nations.

    The visitors were outgunned and outclassed, despite a raft of pre-match coverage tipping the English to be of a much more difficult test.

    However, if one had to pick out a portion of the English setup that stood out above all else, it was the back row.

    Robshaw and Wood would again form a smooth tandem which, between them, added 42 tackles to the cause.

    On the whole, though, there's no fighting the fact that Robshaw failed to lead his side in a more combative manner. A captain will constantly be judged for their ability to set an example when stakes are at their highest, and on this occasion, he came up short.

Nov. 2, 2013: England 20-13 Australia

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    A good performance was turned into a great one thanks to the fact that Robshaw, after 15 fruitless attempts, scored his first try for England in the 2013 November opener against Australia.

    True to form, the flank utility seized upon a loose ball deep in enemy territory, scoring the scrappiest of charge-down tries but five points all the same.

    Aside from that score, defence was again the best form of attack for Robshaw, who would again reign above all in tackles made, making 14 in total.

    It was particularly encouraging to see Lanchester's champion remain firm when the pressure was applied by Ewen McKenzie's side late on, where others may have folded under the weight.

Nov. 9, 2013: England 31-12 Argentina

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    Argentina were a fairly limp test of England's ability this autumn and found themselves coming up short in the Northern Hemisphere just as they had throughout the Rugby Championship.

    Nonetheless, Robshaw made it his business to get about the pitch with the same ferocity as ever, making an enormous 20 tackles in total.

    The flanker edged a dozen metres or so to his name but seemed to trust in his teammates to make the more telling impact with ball in hand, suitably concentrating on restricting the Pumas' supply above all else.

Nov. 16, 2013: England 22-30 New Zealand

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    And England's final examination of the year would once again come against New Zealand, but the All Blacks were clearly upset by the events that unfolded 12 months ago.

    As a result, Robshaw was just one of those who couldn't quite edge the battle, although one has to give him plaudits considering it was Richie McCaw lined up opposite.

    The black eye picked up along the way sat as testament to just how committed to the cause Robshaw was, with bruises just being the tip of the iceberg regarding what England's players would have been feeling the day after their Twickenham loss.

    Tireless effort and boundless industry were shown, but even that could only go so far in what was a solid display for Robshaw but not too much else.