ENGLAND captain Chris Robshaw believes he and his Harlequins team-mates have to this season retain the Premiership title if they are to truly prove themselves to be a great side and is adamant that they can do so by continuing to play the attractive brand of rugby for which they have become known.
Quins last season beat Leicester to win their first ever Premiership title and Robshaw, though accepting of the potential difficulties that lie ahead over the next 12 months, says his side will explore every innovation at their disposal in pursuit of their targets, even going as far as adopting ideas used by Team GB’s all-conquering Olympic cyclists.
“Yeah, definitely,” said the flanker and Quins captain when asked if it would be more difficult to retain the title than it was to first win it last year. “We always get told these stats and figures about how only a couple of teams have managed to retain the title, and it is one of those things – good sides win, but great sides go on and back it up year on year.
“It’s a challenge, there’s no doubt about it, but we can only control what we can. Of course, we want to be in the top four at the end of the season, but it really is a case of taking things only one game at a time.”
LICENCE TO PLAY
“We’ve got a good environment at the club. We have a free licence from our coaches and they encourage us to go out and play the rugby we enjoy as individuals, and hopefully that shows every time we step out on the pitch,” added Robshaw, who this month joined his team-mates on a work experience day in the City organised by Seven Investment Management.
“The coaches and nutritionists are always bringing new ideas in; it’s about trying to keep improving because if you sit still, other teams will catch you. A lot of focus has been taken from the Olympics and the cycling, and how they strive to get a split second here and there over their competitors, and at the end of the day, that’s what makes the results.
“Whenever one of the cyclists is talking about training, there’s a new helmet, or a new bike, or tyres or an outfit – it’s always been about a 0.1 – hopefully at the end, they’ll add up.”
Robshaw’s rise has been one of the most remarkable within any sport over recent years. In less than 12 months he has gone from being overlooked for former England head coach Martin Johnson’s World Cup squad to being captain both of the national side under Stuart Lancaster and of the Premiership champions, and it is perhaps this that explains his reluctance to look too far ahead and beyond the title challenges he anticipates from Leicester, Saracens and Northampton, even though both a home World Cup and British and Irish Lions tour draw near.
“Every year, every team gets better and better – we don’t really have easy games any more,” said Robshaw, whose season begins against Wasps in tomorrow’s Premiership double header at Twickenham. “That’s the brilliance of the Premiership at the moment – on their day, anyone can beat anyone. It makes it very exciting for the neutrals. Leicester, Saracens and Northampton will be up there, and I’m sure there’ll be a couple of wild cards as well, but you just concentrate on making your team better.
“We’re very excited about this season but you never know based on pre-season. Every club goes really well but until you test yourself out against the opposition you’re going to be competing with week in, week out, it’s hard to know. [Quins director or rugby] Conor O’Shea’s very good at keeping us in our place and making us stay grounded.
“We have to [retain our squad]. We haven’t lost any players but we’ve got a lot of young players coming through into the squad. Look at Joe Marler and George Lowe, they’re starting to get international recognition, Jordan Turner-Hall, these young guys who’ve now had three or four years in the Premiership and are experienced players. If we can keep our experienced heads and keep bringing through young guys like that, things will keep getting better.”