Warren Gatland may have to make a late adjustment to his provisional Lions squad, judging by this hugely impressive return by Chris Robshaw two weeks ahead of schedule from a shoulder injury that ruled him out of the Six Nations Championship.
Dean Richards, the Newcastle director of rugby, and his Harlequins counterpart John Kingston, were united on Saturday in proclaiming his credentials for the tour of New Zealand after the former England captain delivered an all-court display, showing no ill-affects of his 12-week rehabilitation after dislocating the acromioclavicular joint in his shoulder on New Year’s Day.
The fact that he played all 80 minutes for the contest on what was his first competition action since that dislocation was a testament to his resilience and engine.
The 30-year-old made key contributions to two of Quins’s seven tries in a victory that moved Kingston’s side up to sixth place in the Premiership table, while he carried, harried, linked and ran lines of support all afternoon as the returning England contingent made the critical difference in overwhelming Newcastle.
Mike Brown and Danny Care, two of England’s Six Nations championship-winning squad, both crossed for tries, with Rob Buchanan, Joe Marchant, Marland Yarde, Mat Luamanu and Tim Swiel also touching down.
Playing an error-ridden Newcastle side at a sun-kissed Stoop may be lightyears away from the intensity of competition that the Lions will face against the All Blacks, but Richards, who first gave Robshaw his debut when he was at director of rugby at Quins in 2006, and Kingston urged Gatland to take note.
“Robshaw was outstanding,” said Kingston. “Mike Brown rightly gets the attention as man of match but there were several other players who could have taken that mantle.
“It’s a brave man who would discount Chris Robshaw from the Lions I would say.
“He’s a wonderful rugby player and his ability to come back in today after three months out and put in a performance like that is a reflection of the guy.”
Asked whether it had been a plan to leave Robshaw on the full 80 minutes, Kingston said the England flanker had given him no reason to replace him.
“The plan was to let him run through. Chris loves it,” Kingston added. “He gets better the longer it takes.
“You’re judging it by how people are. Off the top of my head he probably wouldn’t have been on my radar if I made a change in the back row.
“One of Chris’s greatest strengths was his engine. He keeps going and going and going.
“I think he could have played last week if we’d been involved. He’s been raring to go for about a fortnight. We’re going to have a fresh Chris Robshaw now for however long we’re involved over the coming weeks. That’s a massive, massive positive for us.”
Richards, who lamented his side’s error-rate after a promising start had seen Tane Takulua cross for an early try, hailed Robshaw as the type of warrior that Gatland will need in New Zealand.
“I think Chris Robshaw is a class act and would have been playing for England if he had been fit,” said Richards. “He would certainly be touring for the Lions from my point of view.
“He is a really good player, and outstanding player who has huge leadership potential as well. In terms of what England missed against Ireland, he probably had that nous and that understanding that the probably missed on the day.
“Look, he is as good as anybody they (the Lions) will come up against on that tour and I would have him in my team any day.”
Robshaw had to endure a couple of heavy hits in the opening minutes but he set the tone with a strong carry up the left-hand touchline in the build-up to Quins’ opening try, with an offload by the outstanding Mat Luamanu putting Buchanan over for a try in the 16th minute.
Having cancelled out Takulua’s try – Nick Evans also landed a penalty – Quins never looked back, with Newcastle not helping themselves by having two players sent to the sin bin, Juan Pablo Socino and Evan Olmstead in each half.
Joel Hodgson’s loose pass was picked off brilliantly by Marchant for a soft try and with the sun on their backs and their returning internationals, including Tim Visser and James Horwill making impressive contributions, it was the sort of afternoon that delights the Harlequins’s supporters.
The tries flowed and even if the quality of the action did not match the entertainment, the substance of this victory is that it maintains Quins’ outside hopes of a top-four place.
Brown and Care were operating at a different class, with Care buzzing behind a dominant pack and Brown carrying and distributing to equal effect. Brown showed his finishing power from an inside pass from Visser in the first half before he turned creator at the start of the second by delaying his pass to Yarde for the try that took the game completely beyond Newcastle’s reach.
Richards felt Quins had benefited from the frustration their England contingent had endured by the Grand Slam-ending defeat by Ireland in Dublin on the previous weekend.
“Their England boys had a point to prove after the Ireland game, didn’t they?” Richards added. “And the team they had left behind had been doing really well so it was probably the worst time to catch them. But we still gifted them so many points on the day and that is the most frustrating thing.”
Next up for Quins is Saracens at Wembley, another game that will allow Robshaw to press his Lions claims against the England and European champions and another home game against Exeter before Gatland names his squad on April 19.
“For us the minimum we want to try to get into the Champions Cup for the first time in three years,” Kingston added. “I felt the Leicester (defeat) was the hammer blow to our aspirations for the top four but the victory over Gloucester probably changed it a little bit. We have got some big games ahead.”
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