- Robshaw outlines the importance of the breakdown battle against Australia
- "When you talk about the breakdown, Hooper is one of the best" – England captain
One-on-one battles can be overhyped in the team-centric world of international rugby, but Chris Robshaw's task of subduing the energy Michael Hooper injects into Australia’s play can go a long way to securing victory on Saturday.
The Waratahs No.7 was the Wallabies’ star performer when the pair met this time last year, using masterful timing to apply extreme pressure at the breakdown as the visitors edged favourites England 20-14.
Forwards coach Graham Rowntree has outlined his anger at how his troops were out-muscled and out-thought at the tackle area that day and Robshaw is under no illusions about what is expected.
“We’re focussed on making sure we look after the ball,” said Robshaw, who was confirmed as England captain for the QBE Internationals last week.
Photo: Getty Images
“The breakdown is always a hot topic and a fierce aspect of the game whenever you play a team from the southern hemisphere. They love quick ball, as we do, so both teams will go hard at that aspect.
“It’s a one-to-15 mentality of making sure as an England team we have that quick ball. With it, the game becomes much more difficult for defenders as they can’t get set. And when you switch that around, when they’ve got the ball you want to slow it down as much as possible because then defenders can get into place, number up and then there isn’t as much space when the opposition look up.”
That unassuming assessment of the importance of securing clean ball at the breakdown only sharpens the focus on Hooper, who, despite Australia’s indifferent form over the last 12 months, has built on his match-winning Twickenham display with a series of stirring performances.
The 22 year-old recently claimed the 2013 John Eales medal, bestowed on the Wallabies’ best player, and Robshaw says his raw skills make him a formidable opponent. But the Harlequins skipper believes too much emphasis on one man will leave England exposed to damage from the other members of Australia’s mobile forward pack.
Reiterating the mindset of intensity in contact and taking care of the ball, he said: “When you talk about the breakdown area, Hooper is one of the best. He’s quick, he’s powerful, he’s strong over the ball and he is that link man that does the job for Australia.
“But it’s not just him, they’ve got a number of players who are key [over the ball] and we can’t take that lightly. You look at [Ben]Mowen and [Scott]Fardy in the back row and their front five are mobile around the park, with Stephen Moore in particular strong over the ball. It’s about making sure we have a mentality that when we have the ball we look after it, ruck well and place the ball back.”
Photo: Getty Images
After two rounds of intense Heineken Cup rugby in the build-up, Robshaw dismissed fears that England might be under-cooked when compared to battle-hardened Australia, who have recently completed their Rugby Championship campaign.
Indeed, Robshaw was relentless as Quins surged back to claim a creditable losing bonus-point in the cauldron of Clermont Auvergne’s Parc de Sports Marcel Michelin.
Head Coach Stuart Lancaster names his team to face Australia at 10.45am this morning, with Gloucester Rugby’s Ben Morgan and Saracens Billy Vunipola vying for the No.8 berth.
England’s best attacking performances in the last year – the victories over New Zealand and Scotland spring to mind – were characterised by bulldozing runs from Morgan, while Vunipola plundered four tries on the summer tour to South America.
Whichever player gets the nod, Robshaw believes they can add a much needed quality to England’s play.
“They’ve been fantastic in training recently and can really add another dimension to this England team,” he added. “Ball-carrying from the back row is an important part [of the balance] and I’m sure one of them will bring that.”