You'll either be knighted if you win or you'll be Guy Fawkes if you lose...

Ross McLean
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Harlequins flanker Chris Robshaw had a solitary cap to his name when handed the England captaincy by head coach Stuart Lancaster
Harlequins boss Conor O’Shea tells Ross McLean his Rugby World Cup message to Chris Robshaw

ENGLAND’S performance at this month’s World Cup will either immortalise skipper Chris Robshaw or taint his reputation gravely, according to his club boss and Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea.

Robshaw had a solitary cap to his name when interim head coach Stuart Lancaster handed over the captain’s armband and empowered him to head England’s revival from the ruins of a scandal-hit World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.

O’Shea had already clocked Robshaw’s leadership credentials, having appointed him Harlequins skipper within months of taking over from Dean Richards at The Stoop in 2009.

But question marks over his suitability for the role as England captain as well as his ability as an openside flanker and subsequent place in team lingered, largely until a seminal victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in this year’s Six Nations.

“I’ve said to Chris that one of two things will happen at the World Cup. You are either going to be knighted at the end for winning it or you’re going to be Guy Fawkes if you lose it,” O’Shea told City A.M.

“But you would always take being the guy who is leading England into the World Cup. Chris is an unbelievable ambassador for the game and a bloke that epitomises everything you want in a rugby player: unbelievable work-rate and incredible skills.

“It annoys me but I suppose it’s the world we live in. You’re up there to be criticised.

“The breakdown is the game in so many was. You win the contact area, you win the collision and you generally win the breakdown. What were Ireland complaining about last week when they lost to Wales? They lost the breakdown. Does that mean the Irish back-row are suddenly rubbish?

“If people want to take one or two examples from a game when a breakdown has been lost and decide to ignore the breakdowns that are won, so be it.

“People will always launch the same criticism at Chris but he went toe to toe and outplayed [New Zealand’s] Richie McCaw last year.”

Robshaw will lead England into battle against Ireland in a QBE International at Twickenham on Saturday, his side’s final warm-up clash before the home World Cup starts on 18 September when Lancaster’s team face Fiji.

The loser will head into the tournament bearing the scars of successive losses after England’s sluggish defeat against France in Paris and Ireland’s setback against Wales at the Aviva Stadium last month.

“It doesn’t define the World Cup by any stretch but you don’t want to go into it on the back of two losses, purely for morale,” added former Ireland full-back O’Shea, who won 35 international caps between 1993 and 2000.

“It’s probably more important for England than Ireland because Ireland can walk into the tournament whereas England need to hit the ground running with Fiji, Wales and Australia the first three pool games.

“Ireland have been lucky with the draw with Canada and Romania up first and with the best will in the world they will win those. England have a different proposition and will want to put a marker down to say Twickenham is our fortress.

“There is plenty of intrigue for England. How will the new centre partnership of Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph function? Can Sam Burgess make an impact off the bench? The line-out didn’t function against France.

“I have a fair idea that Joe Schmidt will go pretty full on and it will be a big test for England if Ireland put out [Jonathan] Sexton, [Jared] Payne and [Robbie] Henshaw [in the midfield]. It will not be a friendly that’s for sure. It will be a full-blooded Test match.”

Holders New Zealand are the favourites to win the World Cup having ended their 24-year wait to lift the Webb Ellis Cup four years ago, although no team has ever retained the trophy since its inauguration in 1987. England are ranked as second favourites.

“For England, it’s difficult because unless they win the World Cup they won’t consider it a success,” said O’Shea. “That’s what they have got to go out and do. Ireland have never had a better opportunity to get to the semi-finals.

“The favourites for the tournament still have to be New Zealand.

“There aren’t many sides that can win it and you can name them. You’re looking at Wales, England, Australia, who are all in the same pool and believe they can win it, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and France.

“When it all boils down that’s all there is. You’re not going to get a surprise package outside of those.”

The potential remains for Saturday’s showdown to be a dress rehearsal for a last-four tussle and, while a win for Ireland would mean two victories over England this year following their Six Nations triumph, O’Shea is convinced such trends are irrelevant.

“What a semi-final that would be, a complete and utter one-off,” added O’Shea. “History to me is history, it always has been. So many changes can take place between now and then. So much can change after this weekend’s game.

“[Fly-half] Stephen Donald was fishing at the start of the last World Cup but ended up sealing the World Cup for New Zealand.”

Conor O’Shea was speaking on behalf of QBE Business Insurance, official insurance partner of the England Rugby team. For more information please visit