As the ex-England captain prepares to swap the Premiership for Major League Rugby, he reflects on his career to date
Chris Robshaw’s Life In Pictures
Chris Robshaw won all 66 of his England caps as a starter, never playing in a Test from the bench. His was an international career full of ups and downs, from famous wins over the southern hemisphere ‘big three’ to that infamous exit from the 2015 World Cup.
As he prepares to swap Harlequins for San Diego Legion, the Premiership for Major League Rugby, the former England captain reflects on significant events in his career to date…
2008 – Senior moment
“I’d done U21s with England but this was my first time being with a men’s squad (Saxons), so to speak. We went to a part of the world I’d never been to before, playing in Toronto, Ottawa and then this final game in Chicago (they beat Scotland A 36-19).
“There wasn’t the pressure of a first-team tour, so we got to enjoy it off the pitch too. It was almost an old-school tour; we’d give our all on the pitch but we also made the most of things around us, like going to see the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball. It’s a tour with very fond memories for me.”
2009 – The cap fits
“I spoke about this game with Mum the other day; she had to stream it through a dodgy internet company. It feels so long ago that a match wouldn’t be on BT or Sky.
“It was all a bit of a whirlwind as the first match (against Argentina) was in Manchester. I didn’t play but it was brilliant to train at Old Trafford with all the history.
“Then we flew to Argentina and Martin Johnson told me early in the week that I’d be starting so I could get my head around it. That first cap went so fast, and we lost.
“You usually sing on the bus but James Haskell, the joker he is, said I should do it at the function, so I was on stage singing Build Me Up Buttercup. The Argentinians didn’t know what I was doing!”
2011 – High drama
“We beat Munster at Thomond Park in the (Challenge Cup) semi-final; we played out of our skin. We weren’t great in the final (against Stade Français) but hung in there and then there was an incredible bit of magic – Joe Marler to Danny Care and Gonzalo Camacho went over for a try, then Nick Evans with a tremendous touchline kick to win it (19-18).
“Incredible – the first bit of silverware a lot of us had been involved in. A lot of us had come through the academy, played together for a long time. We wanted to win things.”
2012 – Captain Chris
“I had to wait two-and-a-half years for a second cap, but these things happen. I’d been in and out of training camps, around the squad and kept plugging away, hoping to get an opportunity.
“I remember being in the tunnel before we ran out and just being, ‘This is what I’ve always wanted to do’. Of course I was nervous but there was also a huge amount of excitement (to captain England for the first time, against Scotland). I not only wanted to enjoy it but to put my best foot forward. It was absolutely incredible.
“I also met Princess Anne for the first time and had to introduce her to all the players before kick-off, so I was having to think what players’ full names were when we usually use nicknames. Lee Dickson was playing and I was playing with his brother Karl at Quins, so I was focused on getting the right first name!
“We went up to Scotland with a very young squad and there were a lot of nerves and emotions. They made us feel welcome, as you can imagine, but we managed to win 13-6. It wasn’t the most exciting game but just to get the win was brilliant as we hadn’t won up there in a while (since 2004).”
2012 – Title deed
“In this photo are guys I came through the academy with, so just to share the Premiership win with those boys, with the team I’d supported as a kid…
“It’s a different feeling playing at Twickenham in a club shirt than it is for England. When we play there, we park at the Stoop and walk to the stadium. That day there was a guard of honour over the bridge, through the car parks and into the stadium so it was very emotional. A couple of guys were teary and it’s no bad thing to be motivated by that.
“We got the perfect start (first-minute penalty and early try against Leicester), had a little bit of a wobble around 60 minutes, but held out (to win 30-23).
“We went back to the Stoop afterwards with the fans, Nick Easter sang a couple of songs and there were a couple of thousand people on the pitch.”
2012 – Manu magic
“We hadn’t beaten New Zealand since 2003 and to get our hands on the Hillary Shield was great. I remember Dan Cole shoving the match ball up his jersey, boys swapping tops… We still had to do recovery and sit in that ice bath, so smiling for photos made the time go a bit faster.
“Manu Tuilagi was a man possessed that day – running through people, making breaks. And I’d never heard Twickenham so loud; it was rocking and the scoreline (38-21) was brilliant.”
2013 – Close range
“Unfortunately I’m not the most prolific try-scorer, but I’ve still scored more than Joe Marler!
“To score a try for your country, especially at Twickenham, is great. We’d talked about putting pressure on Australia during the week and Mako Vunipola got a chargedown on Will Genia’s kick.
“I was in the right place at the right time; it squirted out to me and I was a metre away. I can’t claim I ran in from 50 metres!”
2013 – Eye of the storm
“This was against New Zealand. I think Sam Whitelock carried the ball into a tackle and I could feel it straightaway.
“As the game went on, my eye slowly closed and by the end I could barely see anything. Close one of your eyes and it affects your depth perception, so catching a ball, tackling… it just throws you.
“I felt pretty beaten up after that game – I also had a bulging disc. Mako Vunipola said to me, ‘What’s wrong with you? You’re 27!’”
2015 – Decision time
“If I look back at that time, leading the team through the crowds and into a World Cup was one of the highlights of my career. There were so many people and so much excitement there.
“We went into the first game against Fiji, the emotions were there and we got the win, then we had the Wales game. We were in a very good position with ten to 15 minutes to go, (Wales then took a 28-25 lead) and I made a decision that didn’t pay off. It was a tough kick and we backed our process (for the lineout).
“At times like those you’ve got to put it all out there and back yourself, believe in yourself, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Would I make the same decision again? Probably not, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
“The backlash was definitely one of the hardest times of my life, let alone my professional career. That week was extremely tough.”
2015 – Down and out
“After losing to Wales (at RWC 2015) we were down but extremely hopeful. We’d beaten Australia in the November campaign before; we knew it would be a tough game but we were confident in ourselves.
“We went into the Australia game knowing we had to win and win well. We played reasonably well but I’ve never played an Australia side like that, it’s the best Australia side I’ve played. They put us to the sword (33-13) and unfortunately we were out. The knives were sharpened by media outlets, bloggers, whoever else.
“It took a long time to get over and I’ll always have the scar of that World Cup. I had good people around me but it did take time.”
2016 – Fractions in it
“Eddie Jones came in (after RWC 2015) and I didn’t know if I was going to play. I was very privileged to be given a second opportunity and to finally win a Six Nations and a Grand Slam after finishing second four times in a row, twice on points difference. We finally got hold of that trophy!
“In the World Cup, Eddie said England only had six-and-a-halves and got stuck into myself, James Haskell and a few others.
“After the game in France, Haskell winked at me and came back with two six-and-a-half shirts! It was a little bit of fun and we had a photo with Eddie in the middle too. He found it quite amusing.”
2016 – Fab 50
“To go to Australia that summer and whitewash a series down there for the first time and win my 50th cap, presented by Jason Leonard, helped me move forward (from the 2015 World Cup).
“To have the most-capped Englishman ever present it was very fitting and is something that will stay with me for a long time.
“I don’t have many mementoes up at home but that silver cap is on the mantel; it’s the one thing that I have downstairs.”
2017 – Rock and roll
“Camilla was showing me pictures of before and after we met, and she’s had a massive impact on my dress sense!
“That was a fun night. We had an engagement party in London for 150 people with a Great Gatsby theme. It was a great party.
“She’s been a rock for me, especially when things haven’t gone as well as I’d like.”
2018 – Cape cheer
“I have mixed memories of this tour. I played the first game at Ellis Park, which is an incredible place to play, but unfortunately I got dropped for the second game. Eddie Jones has always been very honest with me and he said I wasn’t playing as well as I normally was. So that week was about helping the team prepare for the game, being a team man.
“Then I was lucky to get called in for the third game in Cape Town; I was really pleased with my performance and the win. It was pretty horrendous weather. We didn’t win the series but it’s the first time we’d won in South Africa for some time (since 2000).
“Before that autumn I did my knee and it was slower than I’d hoped to recover, so I also missed the Six Nations. I wasn’t in the mix for the World Cup, which was tough to take, but I did everything I could. I’d snap someone’s hand off to have another shot at playing for England, but things change and time moves on.”
2020 – American dream
“I’ve always wanted to live abroad and have that life experience. I was born and raised in South London, I’ve been here my whole life, and rugby is a vehicle to a new culture, new lifestyle, new experience. If I’m not going to live in Wandsworth, California isn’t a bad place to live!
“I’ll be enjoying both rugby (with San Diego Legion) and time off the pitch. I probably won’t play as many games there as here, and apparently they train every morning then surf in the afternoon, do recovery on the beach.
“I’m scared of sharks and I’ve only been surfing once or twice, but it’s all about trying things at this stage in my life and getting that opportunity to have a life experience. It’s exciting.”
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This article originally appeared in the September 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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