Tough ruck for Robshaw: Lions skipper He's struggling to make the squad, says Gatland
01:02 GMT, 29 November 2012
As if Chris Robshaw hasn't suffered enough already this week, the England captain was dealt another hammer blow on Wednesday: to his Lions hopes.
The 26-year-old Harlequins flanker has had to endure criticism and scrutiny after England's defeat by South Africa last Saturday.
His decision to go for goal from a late penalty was questioned on the field and has been widely debated ever since.
Tough ruck: Chris Robshaw could lose his Lions place in the Lions squad
For Robshaw, it has been an uncomfortable peek into the downside of captaincy but now his playing credentials have been called into question – by a man he would be hoping to impress.
Warren Gatland named Robshaw as a Lions captaincy contender when he became head coach in September but the Kiwi suggested that, far from being a potential skipper for the Australia tour, Robshaw may lack the specialist skills to be selected at all.
After England's defeat by the Wallabies on November 17, when visiting No 7 Michael Hooper put in a man-of-the-match display, there was fresh talk about England's lack of an out-and-out openside.
Gatland continued that theme: 'Sometimes they struggle for a genuine No 7. I know Chris (Robshaw) has been doing that role and people speak really strongly of his leadership qualities.
Hard week: Robshaw has endured a great deal of criticism this week
'The hard thing about the English game now is the way it's being very dominantly refereed towards the attacking side, which often makes it difficult for a genuine No 7 to get himself in the game.
'So you can go in there with sixand- a halves or sixes. We saw that with Leicester playing (Thomas) Waldrom at seven as well and being able to get away with it. Just watch how quickly referees are calling “ruck, hands off, leave it alone”.
'I think if they get that balance and allow the sevens to be more aggressive and compete legitimately, that's going to help develop more No 7s.
'You need genuine sevens going to Australia. You need sevens who are competing hard on the ball and being effective. It's not just about Pocock – it's Hooper and Gill as well (Wallaby opensides). They are all three quality No 7s.'
Wrong call: Robshaw had a tough decision to make during England's defeat against South Africa
Another factor working against Robshaw is that Wales skipper Sam Warburton, the early frontrunner for the Lions captaincy, is a No 7 with a poacher's instinct.
While the Cardiff player has been striving for form in a difficult summer tour Down Under and on into this season, Gatland yesterday offered him words of encouragement after an improved showing against New Zealand.
'I was pleased last week with Sam,' he said. 'He had been under a bit of criticism and I thought he was outstanding against the All Blacks. I thought he carried strongly in the second half.
'I spoke to Sam after the game and told him, “I thought you did a really good job on McCaw”.
'He said, “I didn't feel McCaw was a real threat at the breakdown. He was just a real nuisance in terms of slowing down the game, how quickly he gets back to his feet”.
'He said (David) Pocock is a different animal – he floats around the back, sees an opportunity and competes really hard on the ball. That was a pleasing conversation – Sam identified the difference in sevens he was playing against.'
Gatland has to appoint his assistant coaches, to be unveiled on December 12 in Edinburgh. Then comes a reconnaissance trip to Australia, to assess training venues and other logistics.
'The captaincy issue is the tough one at the moment,' he said at the launch of the adidas Lions shirt.
Bouncing back England are hoping to recover from defeat against the Springboks
'Ideally, you are saying it is someone guaranteed selection for the Test side, but you are looking at the strength in certain positions; there is no guarantee in that.
'Someone like Jamie Heaslip has captained Ireland in the last couple of games – that puts him in the frame as well. There are a lot of potential options. It's a really interesting debating point but I don't think it's something we should get too hung up about.'
One issue Gatland is avoiding is the home nations' poor results against the southern hemisphere.
'We might not be as strong as we can be,' he said, 'but we'll be ready when we need to be.'
Meanwhile, England's reserve fly-half Owen Farrell is a shock nomination for the International Rugby Board player of the year award, with France No 10 Frederic Michalak and New Zealand's McCaw and Dan Carter.