2013 British & Irish Lions
Gatland praises Robshaw development
ESPN Staff
February 8, 2013
England's Chris Robshaw lifts the Calcutta Cup aloft, England v Scotland, Six Nations, Twickenham, London, England, February 2, 2013
Robshaw has been in excellent form in recent months for England © Getty Images

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has praised England captain Chris Robshaw for the way he has developed as a player in recent months.

Earlier this season, Gatland raised questions over Robshaw's ability to play as an open-side flanker, despite being complimentary about his leadership qualities. Three days later though Robshaw led England to an impressive 38-21 win over the world champions New Zealand and he continued that form into the Six Nations by leading England to a 38-18 win over Scotland on the opening weekend.

Now with England travelling to Dublin, Robshaw will come up against strong challenger for the Lions' No.7 jersey in Ireland's Sean O'Brien, who outplayed the previous favourite Sam Warburton as Ireland beat 30-22 Wales in the opening round of match. Gatland will attend the match at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday and he was quick to speak highly of both players.

"Robshaw has done a good job for England and the same could be said for O'Brien with Ireland. Players have the ability to reinvent themselves," Gatland said. "Sometimes it comes down to how players are refereed in different competitions.

"In the Premiership it is a lot more open, with less competition on the ball, so you watch someone like Chris at Harlequins and he doesn't compete hard for the ball because he is not allowed to do so by the referee, but in international rugby referees allow that competition for the ball. England have worked hard on that area and they're competing more at the breakdown. I think Chris has reinvented himself, he's done really well and O'Brien has done the same so I am really looking forward to that match-up on Sunday, it's going to be fascinating."

Another player Gatland will be keeping an eye on is Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll. The three-time Lion rolled back the years against Wales and capped a superlative performance with Ireland's third try. O'Driscoll is a player Gatland knows extremely well after he gave the Leinster player his debut against Australia back in 1999.

His performance led to calls for O'Driscoll to be appointed tour captain, something he was given previously for the 2005 tour to New Zealand, but Gatland did question whether he could stand the physical vigour of a long tour.

"The thing with Brian - everyone knows what a quality, world-class player he is - it is him holding his body together for that period," Gatland said. "We are going on tour for six weeks that are pretty intensive. Is his body able to handle that day in day out? One of the things I pride myself on is being able to manage players, looking after the experienced players who are important to your squad.

"When you are selecting the captain of the Lions, ideally you say 'at this moment I think you are good enough to get in my Test side'. When you go on tour, there are going to be no guarantees. If someone else is playing better than you, you might be tour captain but someone else can be Test captain. I think that is a responsible attitude. The captaincy is all about form. In the past I think you have picked a captain first and then pick a team around him. We are going to pick the best players on the tour and then make a decision about the captain."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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