Chris Robshaw has warned his Harlequins teammates their European Challenge Cup title bid will “self-implode” unless they deal with the mental pressure of trying to defeat Clermont Auvergne in Saturday’ semi-final in France.
Harlequins are facing the second best team in the Top14 who average more than seven tries a match in the Challenge Cup and will be backed by a vociferous Stade Marcel-Michelin crowd.
However, Robshaw has previous experience of upsetting the odds on French soil helping the three times Challenge Cup winners to stun big spending Stade Francais at the Stade de France in 2008 when the hosts boasted Sergio Parisse, Mathieu Bastareaud and Juan Martín Hernández.
Robshaw, who has recaptured the form that won him 66 England caps, knows that discipline in the cauldron of the Stade will be vital for a Quins side that is chasing European glory and a Gallagher Premiership play-off place this season. As the club’s co-captain, he has spoken to volatile England prop Kyle Sinckler who has found it difficult to avoid being wound up by the opposition in recent months, culminating in a needless yellow card for slapping Sale’s Faf de Klerk in the chest.
The former England captain knows that trying to stem the yellow and blue tide on Saturday with 14 men at any point will be a nightmare and said: “We know we are going to be put under severe pressure in Clermont and the bounce of the ball will do against us along with some decisions and we need to stay controlled and composed. If we can do that we will be in a good place and you don’t want to get caught up in the emotion, get a bit loose that is when you self-implode and give another penalty away. It spirals.
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“Discipline is a fine balance and having been through the roller coaster of rugby, I had a good chat with Kyle who gave a few penalties away against Sale and got wound up. As a senior guy it is about team management and understanding what they need and it could be just being there and letting them know you can help. There are some guys who respond to the stick and other who respond to a hot chocolate and a chat.
“If you look at the Clermont team then they could be in the semis of the Heineken Cup and Damian Penaud is very dangerous. The city will shut down for this game and these are the games where you want to test yourself and see what you are about.”
Robshaw, who is desperate to secure a place in England’s World Cup squad in Japan to help erase the memories of the failed 2015 campaign on home soil, believes he is now operating a the exacting level he sets himself having fought back from knee surgery which halted his international career in the Autumn and for the Six Nations.
His link with England is through defence coach John Mitchell who is tasked with keeping in contact with the back row players vying for squad places.
He added: “Eddie drops me texts but you tend to have a point of contact and that is John Mitchell. I am desperate to go to Japan and fingers crossed I can sneak into the World Cup squad having been out of contention for a while.
“When you come back from injury it takes four or five games to feel really sharp and I now feel back to the level I need, particularly in the contact area. As a team we have let ourselves down in our last four Premiership games, going into our shells but we are enjoying our rugby and are a dangerous team. Anything is possible.”
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