England 15-16 South Africa, Twickenham, November 24
Robshaw 'haunted' by penalty decision
ESPN Staff
November 26, 2012
England captain Chris Robshaw talks to referee Nigel Owens, England v South Africa, Twickenham, London, England, November 24, 2012
England captain Chris Robshaw chats to referee Nigel Owens during Saturday's clash with South Africa © PA Photos

England captain Chris Robshaw has revealed that his controversial decision to kick for goal with a late penalty in Saturday's 16-15 loss to South Africa rather than push for a try "haunted" him all night.

Robshaw instructed replacement fly-half Owen Farrell to kick for goal rather than to the corner for a lineout with England trailing South Africa 16-12 and with just two minutes on the clock. Robshaw then asked referee Nigel Owens if he could change his mind and was denied. Farrell made the kick but England failed to recover the ball from the re-start and the Boks closed out the victory.

As a result England's decision making returned to the spotlight just a week after Robshaw was subject of similar criticism in the wake of his side's 20-14 defeat to Australia. On that occasion England sent the ball to the corner in search of a game-defining try when trailing by just six points and with 20 minutes to play. The Wallabies held out and England were left to rue the decision not to increase the pressure on the visitors from the kicking tee.

"Taking tough decisions is what captaincy is about and I have learnt some harsh lessons over the past couple of weeks," Robshaw wrote in his column for the Daily Telegraph. "When I took my decision to kick for points when there was just over two minutes remaining and England were trailing South Africa by four points on Saturday, I honestly believed it would give us the best chance of winning the Test match.

"I thought we still had time to get the points. South Africa had been giving penalties away in their own half and I thought we could win the restart, play a bit and then get ourselves potentially into dropped goal or penalty range. But it is all well and good thinking it in your head, it is about executing it, and unfortunately it didn't come off."

Robshaw also stressed that his thought process was not influenced by what had happened the previous week. "I know it is on me and I have to back up my decisions. People have said I was influenced by what happened against Australia when we didn't take the points on offer but you have to assess each situation based on what gives us the best chance to win a Test match," he said.

"On the day you can't be affected by external circumstances and opinion. It didn't work out on Saturday and of course people are entitled to say that it wasn't the right call. You learn lessons from every Test match and hope to become a better player and captain but that doesn't make such a defeat easier to take.

"I must admit I found it difficult to put the decision out of my mind on Saturday night. I watched the video of the match when I got home and analysed it. I then tried to switch off and have a break but it was lurking at the back of my mind throughout the night."

England coach Stuart Lancaster has since dismissed any suggestion that he would change his captain and reiterated his support for Robshaw. "Chris has done a fantastic job for us and we are 100% behind him," Lancaster said. "When I was captain, you always tend to have a debate with your fly-half because you have the decision between you - is it in your range, should we go for the corner?

"I am not concerned we have a split or a leadership dynamic that is causing me problems as a coach. I saw Chris on my own (when he came back into camp last night) and he was a bit flat. But I saw him a little bit later and he said 'I feel so much better because everyone has come up to me and said don`t worry about it, we are all behind you'. I am proud of the team they have behaved in that regard."

Regarding the decision to go for the posts, Lancaster added: "It was not black and white. Either decision could have won the game. The probability of winning the game was slightly higher by going to the corner - but there was no guarantee we would have won the lineout there.

"The pressure of international sport is that decisions and execution get scrutinised but we learn and move on. The bottom line is we support the captain. The players are ultimately disappointed we (as a group) didn't make it work for Chris because he is the one who has been given the blame and it is unfair in our opinion. Games are never won and lost on one moment and we stand behind him."

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