Chris Robshaw insists he will do everything he can to prove his match sharpness ahead of the British & Irish Lions squad being named on April 19 after revealing he came through his first return to action in 12 weeks without any reaction to the shoulder injury that forced him to miss the entire Six Nations Championship.
The England flanker played the full 80 minutes in a seven-try, 53-17 victory for Harlequins, which keeps alive outside hopes of making the play-offs, and impressively was a dominant presence in all areas of the forward contest.
Robshaw was involved in the build-up to two tries – carrying strongly to create the momentum for Rob Buchanan’s score and acting as the link-man in Danny Care’s second-half effort – but it was his all-round impact that caught the eye.
Both John Kingston, the Harlequins director of rugby, and his Newcastle counterpart, Dean Richards – who first gave Robshaw his Quins debut in 2006 – claimed the 30 year-old should make Warren Gatland’s squad for New Zealand, despite the length of this lay-off.
It was Robshaw’s first game since New Year’s Day, when he dislocated the A/C joint in his shoulder and required surgery and intensive rehabilitation to ensure he was able to even play again this season.
Robshaw admitted it had been a major relief to come through the 80 minutes without any setbacks, particularly after enduring a heavy hit on this shoulder in the opening minutes at The Stoop on Saturday.
“It was early on and I got a bit of a hit, but it was fine,” revealed Robshaw. “That was always the thing, once you have had an injury you almost want to have a bit of a collision early on and then you know it is fine and you don’t have to worry about it and you can get involved.
“Until you do that you are still a bit wary, I would say. But as soon as you have that first one, it was fine and you can get fully involved.
“It was just good to get out there and play a full 80 minutes. I got some good collisions on the shoulder and it looks like it has healed nicely. That was always going to be the test. You train, you do everything in training, but it is never quite like a game, it is always a bit controlled.
“So to be out there – whether it was carrying or tackling, rucking or mauling - I came through with no issues. I am sure will be a bit stiff tomorrow – it was my first 80 minutes in about two-and-a-half months.”
And fully involved he was. Robshaw was helped by the major impact of Quins’ returning international contingent – Care and Mike Brown were in scintillating form themselves, relishing the sun on their backs after the disappointment of rain-swept Dublin on the previous weekend.
But Gatland will have been impressed that Robshaw appeared to pick up where he left off after his remarkable year with England, during which he rehabilitated not just his shoulder but his entire Test career after the disappointment of the 2015 World Cup.
Robshaw was one of the stand-out performers for Eddie Jones during their historic 12-month unbeaten run of Test victories, having switched from the openside to blindside forward.
Now Gatland must decide whether he has enough credit in the bank to earn selection ahead of a glittering cast of back-row performers during the Six Nations, with Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony the latest to press claims for a spot.
Interestingly, Gatland spoke in the wake of England’s defeat against Ireland that he would consider form, experience and character of players over the course of the last two seasons.
Robshaw, who missed out on the 2013 tour of Australia following England’s heavy defeat by Wales in the Grand Slam game in Cardiff, admits it is out of his control, but he is determined to leave nothing in his tank as he bids to drive Harlequins’ late push for at least a Champions Cup place next season.
“The Lions is out of my control. Of course you want to be there but it is about playing well for your club and looking after club matters. If anything comes on the back of that, fantastic, and you go from there. But at the moment my concern is getting Quins into the top six or the top four.
“You still want to get a little bit fitter and hopefully that will come this week. I have a good week now to get some extra miles on the clock but it was important for me to get through the game injury-free – no niggles and no knocks.
“It was just good to be back. I watched a lot rugby in the Six Nations. You want to be involved in the big games but that wasn’t to be this year. Some of the guys have a bit of time off now but a lot of us are here and preparing for Saracens in two weeks’ time.
“It is a massive derby and a fixture the guys enjoy playing at Wembley. I want to get straight back into it again.
“Top six is the minimum for us. We haven’t been in the top European tournament for three years and as a player you want to play against the best teams and players in Europe.”