Robinson relishing playing return
July 30, 2010
Former England winger Jason Robinson will be lacing his boot up again this season © Getty Images
Jason Robinson has a message for any opponent in England's National Two North who fancies his chances of leaving a bruising mark on the World Cup winner. "If I was worried about the physicality I would not have agreed to join," he says about his shock comeback next season for Fylde on Lancashire's north-west coast.
He accepts that opponents in the tough part-time league, three levels below the Premiership, are going to 'up' training in anticipation of facing a player who reigned supreme in league and union. "I know I'm going to be marked. I know opponents are going to be looking to put a 'big shot' on me," Robinson said.
"If I was bothered by that then I would just have taken up a role off the pitch at Fylde. It's going to be challenge but everyone needs a challenge. I will have to make a lot of adjustments in many areas because I don't know quite what to expect at this level."
Robinson - 36 today - has not played a serious game since the 2007 Rugby World Cup final when England lost to South Africa. The Fylde club, famous for being the home of another England ruby hero in Grand Slam-winning captain Bill Beaumont, may be only a few minutes from his Lancashire farm, but no official truly expected a yes when they suggested a comeback a month or so ago.
A group of local sponsors are being put together to fund a deal that is described as "on going" and one that Mark Nelson, Fylde's director of rugby, hopes will see Robinson using his charisma on and off the field to galvanise a club based around volunteer members. "We want him to help us to go to a new level. But it's not going to be a circus," he insisted.
Robinson was helped in saying yes by the arrival of another famous son of Fylde in Brian Ashton, his former England coach, who has returned to the north-west this summer after a long stint in his adopted city of Bath.
Another reason why Robinson wanted to get back in to rugby was to regroup after his departure from Sale last May after only 10 months as head coach. He surprised many (again) when he took up that job without having done any previous coaching.
He accepts now that he was not prepared to carry such a burden and did not like the stress of trying to keep a struggling team off the bottom of the Premiership. Robinson looks to have been the scapegoat in an end-of-season reshuffle which ended in former All Blacks flanker Mike Brewer recruited by Sale owner Brian Kennedy.
Robinson refused to talk about the reasons for his departure. "If I did then I would only be accused of sour grapes. I will take a few bullets and move on."
His coaching experiences were not all bad. "There were so many good things about last season. None of us wanted to finish so low in the table. I just see it as a learning curve and it opened my eyes to a lot of things.
"Some people you think you know you get a surprise with. All in all it was a great experience and I don't regret it for one minute."
At one stage Sale's plight was such that Robinson was tempted to come out of retirement to play in the Premiership. "It's strange to be involved in a set up where you are actually just as good if not better than the players you are coaching. That's strange especially when you are struggling.
"It was very tempting to come out of retirement and help out. Part of me said I should do it, just to help out, but I knew it was not right."
Robinson remains at the same weight when playing and claims to be refreshed after a break from a career that spanned 15 years at the top of league and union.
Ashton, who coached Robinson previously at Bath and England, has no doubts that if Robinson finds the same form as previous seasons then he "could be the best fullback in England next season."
"But he knows he's got to perform because players will be looking for him though they have to catch him first. I've always called him a freak of rugby because no one has played the game in the style he has. I'm just sorry I'm not 40 years younger and able to play alongside him."
Ashton spent seven years as a player at Fylde when the club was among the 'big guns' of the old northern merit table. But since professionalism kicked in they have struggled to balance books in an effort to keep up.
Though Fylde have developed a multi-purpose sports club, being a training centre for local football and rugby league clubs, some things have not changed. The old, small wooden stand remains untouched apart from a big banner promoting a local taxi firm.
The ailing structure should be full for Robinson's home debut when local rivals Preston Grasshoppers visit on Saturday, September 12. Club chairman Mike Brennand hopes last season's average of 600 will be doubled by the arrival of 'Billy Whizz.'
Brennand insists Fylde will not be borrowing from the bank to fund Robinson. "We are a self-supporting club who are determined to play at the highest level of rugby our funding can support." He looks upon Robinson as a 'Pied Piper.' All roads may lead to the coast near Blackpool next season.