Chris Robshaw ended the most demanding week of his rugby career by becoming only the sixth England captain to lead his country to a win over New Zealand.
England’s 38-21 win over the world champions was as emphatic as the scoreline suggests and while Robshaw left the Twickenham field just seven days ago with the sound of jeers ringing in his battered ears, he marched off the same pitch last night to a cacophony of cheers.
It has been, even by sport’s absurd standards, a dramatic road to redemption from Springbok misery to All Blacks joy.
His much-debated decision to ask Owen Farrell to kick a penalty when four points down with two minutes remaining last week against South Africa was roundly condemned, as was Farrell’s very public and timecostly argument with his captain.
It was not the sole reason for England’s one-point defeat, but it was an unfortunate end to an unfortunate result.
His week hardly improved when Warren Gatland suggested that Robshaw was not first in his thoughts for next summer’s Lions tour to Australia.
After Saturday, Robshaw may not just be playing in the back row for head coach Gatland, he could be his captain.
The relief was etched on Robshaw’s face – and there was anger over the treatment England received after the South Africa defeat.
‘My confidence was high,’ he insisted. ‘My phone has been ringing all week with support. It was a case of going out there and playing as well as I could.
‘I think we delivered the critics the best possible response. The crowd were fantastic and to score the number of tries we did was brilliant. That game rates as the best I’ve ever played in. Everyone who pulled on the England shirt today wanted to prove a few people wrong and we did just that.
‘We went into the game with a bit of anger. They hadn’t given us a chance all week, had they? Some people were wondering how much New Zealand would beat us by. Andy Farrell had said New Zealand were beatable during the week.
‘We came out to prove him right. Everyone was outstanding today.’
Indeed they were and such was the significance of England’s record win that even New Zealand were insisting England could go on and win the 2015 World Cup, regardless of their fifth seeding for Monday’s group draw.
‘There were two sides out there today who can definitely win the World Cup,’ stated All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
‘We have no excuses. We were beaten by the better team. This is a very good England side.’
Richie McCaw sat beside him and nodded his head.
‘There’s no doubt about the talent in the England team,’ said New Zealand’s captain.
‘With experience they’ll get better and better. I was very impressed with them. Can they go on and win the World Cup? They’ll be a big threat.’
The England management had been promising this kind of performance all autumn.
After a woeful defeat against Australia and then a loss against a South Africa team they should have beaten, the least likely team to finally come good against was New Zealand.
But England came good in a way few, if any, could have predicted.
by Terence Johns