The Rugby World Cup is upon us and for most there is an unparalleled excitement that comes with uniting behind a nation in one of sport’s elite tournaments.
For Chris Robshaw that will also be true, along with a lingering sense of what might have been after head coach Eddie Jones decided against including the 33-year-old in his squad.
The former England captain had desperately sought a chance at redemption in Japan, following the disappointment of England’s pool stage exit in 2015, but will have to settle for cheering on his old team-mates instead.
Despite his omission and belief that he could have contributed, he is convinced that Eddie Jones’s side have what it takes to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on 2 November.
“I think they’re going to do very well, they’re in a very good position,” Robshaw tells City A.M. at Mastercard’s “Contactless Tackle” event in central London.
“It will be between them and South Africa. Of course New Zealand are always going to be there or thereabouts, but England are looking good.”
They go into Sunday’s World Cup opener against Tonga buoyed by a successful summer in which they beat Wales, Ireland and Italy at home.
The final 31-man squad have been together for almost six weeks and Robshaw believes the early selection was a smart move that will have suited the players.
“Eddie knows his stuff,” Robshaw says. “He’s always said ‘judge me on a World Cup’ and he knows the way he wants to do things.
“It allowed the players to get more reps in training, more games under their belts. Everyone kept saying they’ve played too many games, but as a player you want to play three or four games to get that match sharpness because there’s nothing quite like playing.”
Harlequins skipper Robshaw believes the combined strengths of England’s forwards and backs make for a “dangerous combination”.
“The pack look big, physical, but they’ve also got subtle hands who can move the ball around. And they’ve got a back-line that is so skilful it can scare anyone,” he adds, singling out hooker Jamie George and the versatile Anthony Watson as two of England’s most impressive players this summer.
“Jamie George has done really well. I know he’s not a new guy to the squad, but I think he’s really come into his own in recent times. He’s been brilliant for England.
“In terms of the backs, Anthony looks back to his best. The crowd wants to see him get the ball because it’s exciting and as a player you want to give it to him because you know he can do something dangerous.”
Despite Watson’s form, it will be difficult for him to nail down a starting place in Eddie Jones’s first choice XV, with Jonny May, Elliot Daly, Joe Cokanasiga, Ruaridh McConnochie and the recuperating Jack Nowell contending for places in the back three.
“The options they have are scary,” says Robshaw. “Whether it is Anthony, Elliot, Jonny, Jack, Ruaridh, big Joe – I think they will scare anyone, whatever the combination.”
Flanker Robshaw believes handling the pressure of the tournament will be a key factor for England after struggling with it himself when captain at a home World Cup four years ago.
“Of course there’s a huge amount of extra pressure. Everyone is excited about World Cups, no matter what the sport is,” he says.
“It’s about trying to get that escape and down time. I know that’s why they went to a beach resort last week to train completely away from everything, so when they come back they are completely focused and ready to go.”
While he had hoped to seek redemption for 2015 this autumn, Jones has opted for a more youthful direction in Japan.
“I found out two weeks or so before the squad was announced. Eddie gave me a call and normally when he calls you it’s not good news,” he says.
“It’s tough to take. You have your sulk, but you’ve got to move forward, especially when you go back to the club. You need to put a brave face on and get the guys going in the right direction.”
Dealing with his omission
Robshaw admits it has been difficult dealing with his omission from the England set-up and sought advice from former Arsenal captain Tony Adams on how to deal with the “transition of life, getting injured, getting older and getting the best out of your team as captain”.
“I was a big Arsenal fan as a kid and he was just a great man who inspired me,” Robshaw says.
“He said the tough thing is people always try to compare it, playing for your country, playing in front of 15,000 people, 80,000 people, whatever it may be. Unfortunately nothing else is going to give you that buzz. The sooner you can realise that, you can move on with the next stage.”
Despite clearly realising this is sound advice, it is also evident Robshaw is not yet at peace with the fact he will never play for England again.
The last World Cup is something that will last with us forever. Hopefully this one can last forever with them for the right reasons.”Chris Robshaw tells City A.M.
“I do look back on my England journey with great memories. There were some highs and some pretty big lows, but all in all I’ve been very lucky. I captained my country 43 times, I’ve played for my country 66 times, I’ve won Grand Slams. I’m extremely honoured to have done that.
“But you always want that one more cap, one more Six Nations campaign, going to Cardiff or Paris one more time. But we all get older and we’ve got to move on.”
An eye on the future
Robshaw is not ready to hang up his boots just yet but admits he has started to think about his post-playing career with increasing frequency, although he has no plans to join James Haskell’s move from rugby union into mixed martial arts.
“I’ve spoken to James about it, but told him I couldn’t think of anything worse,” Robshaw laughs.
With one eye on the future, he has already started a few business ventures, including his own coffee shop and bespoke tailor.
“I’ve got a couple of things in place, but in terms of what I’m going to do fully, honestly, I don’t know yet. That’s something over the next couple of years I really have to delve into,” he says.
For now, he is content to continue playing the sport he loves and, while disappointed not to be in Japan, he will be right behind the team.
And asked what advice he would give the 31 players in Japan, his answer comes from the heart: “Make the most of it, because the last World Cup is something that will last with us forever. Hopefully this one can last forever with them for the right reasons.”