LONDON, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Chris Robshaw is not many people’s idea of a star man, least of all the England captain himself, yet game after game and year after year when the analysis is done, it is the flanker whose numbers routinely come out on top.
From the day he was appointed as coach Stuart Lancaster’s first captain four years ago -- reputedly only because Tom Wood was injured -- Robshaw has been relentlessly written off as a “natural openside”, not to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Richie McCaw, David Pocock and Sam Warburton.
Coach Warren Gatland did not even think him worthy of a place in his 2013 British and Irish Lions squad.
Even if Robshaw were to lead England to World Cup glory this year, there would undoubtedly be critics complaining that somebody else would have hoisted the trophy with more panache.
Robshaw, always calm, always polite, has never shown the slightest public annoyance at the relentless questioning of his pedigree, responding instead by going out and doing his job to the best of his ability.
Like fellow flanker Richard Hill, one of the unsung heroes of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning team, much of Robshaw’s work is the unglamorous grunt of ruck, smother, spoil and his personal tally of over 500 tackles in four years under Lancaster is more than double any other player in the squad.
It is true that he is not a natural ball-snaffler at the breakdown but he almost never gives away penalties in such situations, something few of his more high-profile rivals could ever claim, and that makes him so highly prized by coaches.
Martin Johnson, the only player from outside the southern hemisphere to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, was never a man for Churchillian speeches and says he appreciates the way that Robshaw leads primarily through performance.
“He came in to the job very young, he had some tough decisions early on and got some criticism for it but he’s come out and done very well,” Johnson told Reuters.
”Most importantly he’s consistent. We get very carried away with what player X can do but Chris does his job very well and that’s what you want.
”The guys who can flash occasionally but can also drop right down, they kill you at test-match level.
“In the big games under pressure, one glaring error can make the difference, so that consistency in a pressurised environment is what every coach wants and people see Chris maintaining his performance levels whatever the situation and know they have to match that.”
For all his supposed weaknesses, Robshaw has led his team to victories over every team in the world apart from South Africa and with Lancaster still juggling options all over his pack, having a go-to, uber-reliable performer is gold dust.
Editing by Ed Osmond