Under-fire England captain Chris Robshaw last night admitted he had “learned the hard way” about the pressures of international rugby but is ready to prove his worth as his nation’s on-pitchleader.
All eyes will be on the flanker’s every move today when the Red Rose attempt to end their autumn series with an unlikely win over the majestic All Blacks.
In the last week, Robshaw’s controversial decision-making seems to have been scrutinised and analysed by everyone who has ever witnessed a rugby match.
The furore over his decision to ignore kickable penalties and go for the corner against Australia a fortnight ago was bad enough.
But then, conversely instructing Owen Farrell to slot a penalty goal when England trailed South Africa 16-12 with just two minutes remaining a week ago added fuel to the fire raging around him.
Given both eminently winnable games ended in defeat, it has left the Harlequins captain with plenty of food for thought ahead of today’s final encounter with world champions New Zealand.
“It has been different to previous weeks and it has made me really appreciate the players and coaches and the backroom staff that we have in this squad at the moment,” said Robshaw.
“Everyone has been terrific. There have been a lot of lessons for myself to learn and move forward, whether it is decision-making or other things on the pitch.
“Over the last couple of weeks, myself and the other players have learned a lot about international rugby.
“We have learned the hard way and unfortunately that happens in sport.
“We have to take those lessons and look forward. We can’t be dwelling on what happened the last couple of weeks.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves because if you fall off your game for 10 minutes they will hurt us. They can damage you in 10 seconds.
“First and foremost I need to go out and perform. As a captain you will be put under pressure in these situations but the whole squad have been terrific and really supportive.”
No one can question Robshaw’s ability around the pitch and his competitive nature sees him relishing the prospect of facing the world’s greatest No 7 Richie McCaw.
“You look at his record and he has won over 100 Tests and that record speaks for itself,” said the 26-year-old.
“He has won the World Cup and leads such a great side. All players look up to someone like that.
“It is a massive challenge for myself. They will be hard to nullify.”
Indeed, considering New Zealand are seeking to go 21 consecutive matches unbeaten, the magnitude of the task ahead is more than considerable.
The All Blacks are also targeting a 10th successive victory over England while, if they avoid defeat, it will mark a full unbeaten year for Shane Hansen’s side.
However, it is important for England and, particularly, their coach Stuart Lancaster to produce at least a performance of note to sign off this series on a positive note.
They have come close to overcoming Australia and South Africa but – crucially – fell just short.
Lancaster gained plenty of goodwill after some encouraging showings in the Six Nations and, while no one expected too much from the summer tour of South Africa, it had been hoped they would at least pick up one major scalp this autumn.
Given the 2015 World Cup draw takes place in London on Monday, and England have now been relegated to the second tier of seedings, they realise they must give the Twickenham crowd and wider audience something to cling on to.
Lancaster admitted: “Our mindset going into the game is we have a ‘no fear’ mentality and we want to make sure that we front up.
“You have to rely on creating your own self-belief. You respect the opposition but you can’t become hypnotised by them.”
“It’s going to be a hugely physical challenge but we played against one of the world’s strongest teams last week and I thought we came out on top.
“The time’s coming where we have to start winning these games.
“New Zealand have an unparalleled record. We have to start changing that because we don’t want to go another 10 years.”
England will mark the 10th anniversary of their Rugby World Cup triumph by opening their 2013 QBE autumn internationals with a fixture against Australia on November 2.
England, who are touring Argentina next summer, will tackle the Pumas again at Twickenham on November 9 before rounding off their three-Test series against world champions New Zealand.