NOT MANY players can say they actually enjoyed playing against Richie McCaw, the All Blacks legend and world’s greatest player, but Doncaster Knights’ new signing Beau Robinson certainly has good reason to say so.
A career highlight of the Australian flanker, who makes his competitive debut for the South Yorkshire club in today’s Championship opener at relegated London Irish, was winning the 2011 Super Rugby final against the revered New Zealand captain’s Crusaders.
Robinson, arguably the most high-profile signing in Doncaster’s history having once represented the Wallabies, was playing for Queensland Reds at the time and, all of a sudden, making a name for himself.
“It was a pretty awesome time,” he recalled to The Yorkshire Post, having lined up directly opposite McCaw at No 7 during the 18-13 win in Brisbane.
“It was a surreal season and created some great memories.
“You always want to come up against the world’s best, but that was a star-studded team; there wasn’t just McCaw but Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Sonny Bill-Williams...
“Our coach, though, kept saying to us there was no reason why we shouldn’t believe we could do it and he was right.
“The Reds had been going so ordinary, but we got some real momentum and, then, all the stars seemed to align at once.”
Robinson, though, had little time to enjoy the moment; he was picked to make his international debut the following week in Sydney.
Illustrating the highs and lows of professional sport, however, he came off the bench in one of Australia’s most infamous defeats – a 32-23 home loss to Samoa in Sydney, the first time they had ever lost to the Pacific Islanders.
Robinson was one of five players given a debut by then coach Robbie Deans who, Samoa said, disrespected their opponents by fielding a weakened team having also rested Quade Cooper, the gifted Queensland fly-half.
“It was a whirlwind time,” remembered Robinson.
“Going from winning the Super 15s to preparing for that Test.
“I think I probably paid the price, though, for the loss.
“A few of us who debuted didn’t play again and it was Matt Giteau’s last Test for a while, too, until the rules on playing in France were relaxed.”
That 2011 campaign was Robinson’s first of five seasons at the Reds having originally started out at New South Wales Waratahs in 2006.
He initially moved to the UK with Harlequins last December, joining from NSW County Eagles after Fiji international Netani Talei suffered a serious knee injury.
However, Robinson – who turned 30 last month – made just one appearance and now looks to reinvigorate his career with Clive Griffiths’s enterprising side.
Doncaster may be vastly different to his birthplace of Alice Springs, but it staged the great story of the 2015-16 Championship campaign, the Knights emerging from nowhere to finish second, their best-ever finish, before pushing Bristol so close for promotion in a dramatic play-off final.
It is because of such endeavours that they have now been able to attract a player of such quality.
“I must admit I didn’t know much about the place when I signed, but I’d heard how great they went last year and the transition since coming over has been smooth,” said the forward, who is set for some early involvement in the opening weeks due to an injury to Knights captain and fellow openside Michael Hills.
“I just want to get out there now; it’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that and I’m chomping at the bit.
“I only had a minor taste of the Premiership last season, but I got a feel for the game and know a little about London Irish.
“They’ll be pretty solid and have been able to keep the majority of their squad. They’ll be keen to get straight back up, but we’re looking forward to going down there.”
And what’s the initial impressions of Doncaster’s capabilities?
“They are ambitious and that’s the main thing,” he said.
“I didn’t want to go somewhere complacent and we want to make sure there’s no hangover here after that great run of last season.
“I’m here for one year for the moment, but we’ll see what happens. Hopefully next season we’ll be in the Premiership. There’s no reason why not.
“Doncaster weren’t far off last time and, once you’re in those play-offs, it’s two ties and anything can happen.
“Look at Bristol; they should have gone up a few years running but didn’t until this last time.
“We have to put ourselves into position to challenge.”
Robinson starts at seven tomorrow with fellow new signings Harry Allen (London Welsh) and lock David Nolan (Bourgoin) while experienced prop Richard List leads the side in Hills’s absence.
Doncaster are missing Championship hooker of the year Ben Hunter, though, and regular tighthead Colin Quigley who is replaced by WillGriff John.
Centre Lloyd Hayes also starts following his move from Rotherham Titans while Robin Hislop is set for his debut from the bench.