Chris Robshaw – a Lions Captain?

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Coach Logic

There’s an interesting debate going on at the moment surrounding Chris Robshaw, the England and Harlequins Captain.

Following the appointment of Warren Gatland as Lions Head Coach yesterday, Robshaw has been talked about as a potential Lions captain.

The problem is that the former Millifield pupil is not necessarily considered a Lions tourist. Put another way, if you were to draw up a list of potential Lions captains Robshaw would be on it, but if you were to draw up an entire squad he would be a 50/50 call.

Robshaw shot to fame in 2011. Whilst the England squad were underperforming in New Zealand, Robshaw was making headlines with his performances at Harlequns.

When Stuart Lancaster then took over the reigns as England Head Coach, Robshaw was a big favourite for the captain’s role, despite only having one cap to his name.  When Tom Wood, the only other big candidate at the time, was injured, Robshaw was the obvious choice.

The flanker has shone in the role ever since, displaying the leadership and courage that those who have known him since his school days have always spoken of.

Showing true heart and a determination to forge a unity in his England side, Robshaw has turned his England side from a team in the gutter of public opinion to a source of national pride. He has done so through the strength of his own performances, perhaps most notably against South Africa this summer, where his self-sacrifice was unequalled.

So why then is there any doubt as to whether he should tour or not?

Well, for a start there will likely be only 6, possibly 7, back row touring with the Lions. If you take just the starting three from each of the Home Unions that is twelve to choose from, and in reality there are more.

Sam Warburton has to go; he is the stand out seven in the Northern Hemisphere and the outstanding captaincy candidate. Many judge Stephen Ferris to be the top blindside flanker in the world, while his Welsh rival Dan Lydiate is probably the next in line for that title.

A former European player of the year, one of Ireland and Leinster’s most consistent performers, who can ignore the claims of Sean O’Brien for a place on tour?

With those four practically guaranteed a spot on tour, there is not a lot of room left. If you factor in the fact that none is really a number 8 and nor is Robshaw , then Jamie Healslip must be a shoo-in? That leaves two spots at best, and a whole host of candidates, from Wales’ Toby Falateu, through Scotland’s David Denton, John Barclay and Ross Rennie.

All that and not even a mention yet of England’s potential back row Lions, and perhaps it is one English back row and 2009 Lions veteran who may stand in Robshaw’s way, Tom Croft.

Second of all, Robshaw has been playing for England at seven and yet most observers would agree that he is probably not a seven. Therefore how do you pick him? If he is the best six in England surely he would play there, and if he is not the best six then surely he can’t be picked ahead of someone better for the Lions.

It is not an easy decision for anyone to make, it is the reason why selection is so important for the Lions. As Sir Ian McGeechan says, ‘Anyone can select the first 25-30 players, but it is those final selections that are the difference between winning and losing’.

In my view, for what it’s worth, if I were picking a team to beat Australia Robshaw would not be in it. But if I were picking a squad to win a Lions Test series, a man like Robshaw would be exactly who I’d want on that plane.

My hunch is that it will come down to a straight choice between the attacking game and versatiity of Croft and the leadership skills of Robshaw for that final back row seat.

So no, Robshaw is unlikely to be captain; he is unlikely perhaps even to be in the Test squad. On skill and talent alone he would not go on tour at all, but the Lions are not about skill, not about talent. The Lions are about heart, and unity, and history.  That is where Robshaw stands head and shoulders above the rest – Robshaw is a Lion.

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