With only 10 months to go before England kick off the Rugby World Cup on these shores, Chris Robshaw believes now is the time for his side to lay down a crucial marker.
Over the next four weeks, England host the three southern hemisphere powerhouses of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and also take on Samoa.
Some experts — including Jonny Wilkinson — doubt these matches will have any bearing on the tournament.
Robshaw, however, is convinced they will and wants rivals to be sent packing from Twickenham this month so they will dread the prospect of meeting his side there again next year.
“It is huge, especially with the World Cup being at Twickenham,” the England skipper says. “A lot of teams will want to come to Twickenham and be comfortable there. We’ve got to make Twickenham an extremely tough place, a fortress. So, when these guys come back next year, in the back of their minds they will remember they lost and they will feel it is a feared place.
“The last couple of games we’ve played there, the Ireland and Wales games, have been absolutely superb. The atmosphere is like something I’ve never experienced. You get 80,000 people behind you. There is nothing quite like it, especially when you are defending your line. You just hear the noise, the roar. It definitely makes you get off the ground a little bit quicker. The fans have been outstanding and, hopefully, our players and supporters will continue to build on that throughout this autumn series.”
But surely Stuart Lancaster’s men will line up against New Zealand on Saturday knowing they are second best?
The All Blacks went on a world record 22‑match unbeaten run — including four wins over England — before losing 27-25 to South Africa last month. But before that defeat, England were the last team to beat the world champions, claiming an epic 38-21 victory two years ago at a “rocking” Twickenham.
“A lot of players in the England set-up will remember that victory,” Robshaw says. “It was probably the proudest moment for a lot of the guys in England shirts. I remember the atmosphere. It was so electric, the whole stadium was rocking.
“They recently lost to South Africa and we came pretty close in the summer in the first two Tests. Unfortunately, in the third one, we fell down a little bit. But I believe we left a little bit of a mark down there. We made people take notice about the way we want to play, the intensity we can play with. It comes down to a few significant moments and, unfortunately, in those games, they went against us.
“Saturday’s match will be really intense. The All Blacks set the benchmark of where you have to get to if you want to be the best.”
England’s hopes of upsetting the odds — the tourists are 11-4 on to win — have been hit by a lengthy casualty list. Lock Joe Launchbury, a regular for the last two years, was ruled out of the autumn Tests yesterday with a neck problem, dealing another blow to a pack already missing Geoff Parling, Alex Corbisiero, Tom Croft, Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole.
But Robshaw still has plenty of faith in his squad. The flanker says: “We’re up to third in the world rankings now and we are improving. That is an important thing to keep on remembering. This England squad are getting better and stronger with every competition. We’ve got three separate tournaments before we get to the World Cup.”
It was announced last month that 23 of the 48 matches for the World Cup have already sold out. With such huge interest in the tournament, Robshaw hopes there is a recreation of the London 2012 feeling.
“I was lucky enough to go to a couple of Olympic events in London,” says the 28-year-old. “You felt the buzz and passion that the people created around the stadium and that transfers directly on to the pitch. I saw the athletes being so inspired by that and producing some of their best performances ever. Hopefully, we can do that [in 2015]. A home World Cup will be very special.”
It was Martin Johnson who lifted the World Cup in 2003 after that dramatic final in Sydney, where Wilkinson sealed victory with THAT drop kick.
Robshaw is a huge admirer of Wilkinson, the star of a new Guinness advertisement centred around character and integrity. The skipper said: “Jonny’s dedication was second to none. Even though he was the most famous rugby player in the world, he was such a humble guy and the love for him in Toulon is credit to how hard he worked right up until the end of his last match.”