Spectator sport

Give Robshaw a break

1 October 2015

1:00 PM

1 October 2015

1:00 PM

Pity poor Chris Robshaw. England’s sturdy captain might have a knockout girlfriend and exceptional skills on the cappuccino machine, but he has taken one hell of a pounding from Her Majesty’s armchair battalion of former players and coaches, much more than he took from Sam Warburton at Twickenham on Saturday. Give the guy a break. His decision to go for a line-out and set up a possible winning try rather than attempt a very difficult penalty kick at goal to draw ‘defied belief’ said one newspaper, the same paper that described a similar decision by the Japan captain Michael Leitch in that miraculous last-gasp victory over South Africa as ‘faultless’. One captain is bold and brave, the other muddled and confused, suffering a ‘moment of madness’. Oh please.

Here’s a few things: the kick was never a certainty, even with Owen Farrell in spectacularly good form; had he missed, the Welsh would have had possession and could have advanced upfield, scored and deprived England of even a losing bonus point; World Cup-winning sides tend to win all their games so if you want to win the cup, you must win your games, and not settle for a functional draw when the chance is there for a romantic win. Poor Robshaw: if the lineout ensuing from the penalty hadn’t been so shockingly bad, England might have scored their try and all the moaners would be saluting a brave gamble.

In an odd and furious newspaper article this week a former World Cup-winning coach (yes, it was Sir Clive since you ask) argues that there wasn’t enough planning, or if there was, it was ignored. The idea that you might go into a World Cup without having already decided at least nine months before what you were going to do if you got a penalty out wide with two minutes to go and were trailing by three points in your second group match is clearly anathema to Wooders. Well OK, sport might be run by the guys with the laptops these days, but there is something very heartening to see all that come crashing down and the game become a bunch of battered and knackered blokes on the pitch, making the decisions themselves.

And otherwise, what a wonderful tournament and what a fantastic measure of the growth of world rugby. Before the World Cup is even halfway through, total attendance will have passed the entire audience for the whole of the last World Cup in Britain in 1991. Good show.

Forget your wounded Vunipolas and your Youngs boys, the best sporting brothers around are the mighty Murrays, Jamie and Andy. Doubles tennis is what most people play but fewest watch. It’s always felt like the vaguely unwanted late arrival at the grand slams. But anyone who didn’t catch last month’s epic David Cup semifinal between Britain and Australia missed a feast. Even through the TV you could feel the hysteria at the Glasgow Emirates arena, fuelled by the inexhaustible chanting, cheering and stomping from the boys and girls of the ‘Stirling Uni Barmy Army’, for some years the unofficial cheerleaders of Britain’s tennis teams. A fantastic job they did too, though how many can actually be found in the lecture halls of Stirling is open to question.

I loved them, and you could see the Murray boys riding on the surge of emotion in the hall. There was Judy of course, who may even have had a wee bottle of Sauv Blanc with her as she fist-pumped her boys to victory. Team of the year? Well, there’s only two guys in it and they’re both called Murray. And if Britain win the Davis Cup at the end of November in Ghent, for the first time since the 1930s, it will be a huge personal triumph for Andy. Give that man a knighthood at the least.

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