Rarely could a player with such overwhelmingly admirable qualities have faced such a difficult time endearing himself to his nation as Chris Robshaw.
His indomitable spirit, unbridled passion for his country, and unquenchable thirst for making tackles should have singled him out as the most iconic individual to pull on the England jersey since those behemoths of the 2003 vintage – Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jonny Wilkinson et al.
Instead, he has faced questions over his position – is he a seven, is he a six, is he some confused, crossbreed six-and-a-half? – and his decision making, something which was queried against South Africa and 2012, and pilloried after the catastrophic World Cup defeat against Wales on Saturday.
28-25 down with three minutes to go, a difficult three points on offer to all but salvage a draw after a frenetic encounter that England should have won comfortably, Owen Farrell in imperious form with the boot all evening.
But Robshaw chose to shoot for glory, to kick for touch and trust his pack’s ability to hustle the ball over the whitewash from the resultant line-out, to write himself into history as the captain whose bravery led England to the bravest of victories.
When Wales muscled the ball out of play and the match was lost, surely Robshaw could hear the knives being sharpened.
Afterwards the 29-year-old accepted culpability, but surely in some dark recess of his mind he will resent the fact that it is he who is getting castigated.
Although that penalty decision was, with hindsight, a mistake, it was certainly not the reason behind England’s defeat.
The fact is that this team have often fallen to tight losses and valiant defeats, and it would be grossly unfair to attribute that collective weakness to the one individual who seems to embody its solutions.
As so often since his instalment as captain in 2012, the Harlequins man topped his team’s tackle count, and carried bravely, if not dynamically.
But all that will be remembered as this England team again flatter to deceive is his decision to go for the win, and the ensuing defeat.
This World Cup could have been the moment when Robshaw stepped into the light of public adoration afforded to World Cup winners of old.
Instead, it is now at risk of being the tournament that turns those accusations of weakness, that have previously been conjecture, into an epitaph for a career that could have meant so much more.
– – –
When Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager of Manchester United at the end of the 2012/13 season, not many fans would have believed that it would be over two years before they again saw their team at the top of the Premier League table.
But apart from briefly occupying the position after the first match of David Moyes’ tenure, the recent history of United has been fairly abject, especially given the context of Ferguson’s success.
Moyes didn’t last a season at Old Trafford, and cast over it a pall of negativity that Louis van Gaal has struggled to lift.
Although, ‘struggled’ may the wrong word to use, as the obstinate Dutchman has never sought to provide United fans with the type of entertainment that was commonplace under the stewardship of his illustrious predecessors, Messrs Ferguson and Busby.
Now though, the red half of Manchester is excited again, and the main reason for that fervour cost around £36million, and wears the number nine on his back.
Since making Anthony Martial the most expensive teenager in world football, Van Gaal has often strived to temper expectation of his new star.
However, it seems that Martial did not get the memo.
In tandem with promising livewire Memphis Depay, the young Frenchman has injected pace into a team that was in sore need of it.
All of a sudden, opposition have a reason to be frightened of United again, and the fact that they now sit in pole position in the league is proof that this rejuvenated side has substance to match its style.
Not since Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo burst onto the scene a decade ago have two young talents promised so much.
If Memphis and Martial turn out to be nearly as good as those two, United fans can look forward to seeing their side at the table’s precipice with regularity once more.
– – –
Tyson Fury’s world title bout with Wladimir Klitschko was suspended on Friday, after the Ukrainian damaged his calf in training.
That came just a couple of days after Fury turned up to a press conference for the fight dressed a batman.
The Mancunian was brilliantly described by Ben Dirs of the BBC as ‘a genuinely strange man in the strangest of sports’, whilst others would be less kind when describing the self-titled Gypsy King’s antics.
However, to dismiss Fury as a clown is to miss the point.
Although he boasts an unbeaten two fight record, with 18 knockouts, the 27-year-old is not a lavishly talented fighter like Anthon Joshua, or even David Haye – who was perhaps not naturally big enough to truly dominate at Heavyweight, but who looked sublime at Cruiserweight.
Despite that, Fury has talked, swore and gimmicked his way to a world title clash without having to fight anybody considered as dangerous –with a 2011 points victory over then-undefeated Dereck Chisora the closest he has come to world level.
To engineer an opportunity to win the WBA, WBO and IBF world titles is an impressive achievement, regardless of the fact that Klitschko will most likely box him into submission when the two eventually fight.
The Heavyweight boxing scene has been shambolic for years, and Fury at least brings something different to the table with his unusual marketing schemes and offensive behaviour.
Here’s hoping that the fight is successfully rescheduled.
Even if the outcome in the ring may seem predictable, what Fury does in its build-up and aftermath is anything but.
Image courtesy of MaxiNutrition, with thanks.