Last Updated: 20 September 2023, Author: AceOdds.com
In an exclusive interview, rugby legend Jason Robinson shares his expert insights on the current World Cup, standout players, and the challenges teams face.
So I think it's been an interesting start to the World Cup. I think France beating New Zealand, I think that sort of got the World Cup off to a good start in terms of the host nation. I think because of that you know, everybody in France is massively excited. You can tell as well when other teams are playing and you can just hear the Frenchness [inaudible] being swung in every stadium. So there's a real, real buzz about the tournament as well as France's chances of winning. I mean, before the tournament started my favourites were South Africa. I still think they'll be there or thereabouts, but I think what's great about this, this World Cup is there's quite a few teams that potentially could win.
You look at New Zealand, you've got France, you look at Ireland who are number one in the world, as I say, South Africa, you know, you've got four teams there that could easily beat each other on the day. So I think it's going to be really exciting. And from an England point of view, it was a good start in terms of there's been a cloud around English rugby for a few years now, especially leading into this World Cup. So I think just getting that win against Argentina was key. It just, I don't know, it just seemed to take the pressure lid off what was a very nervy England side for, for quite a bit. But you know, it was a great, great start for them. 27 points. My main concern is that 27 points were all from the boot.
Though it was great that Ford had a great kicking display, I think in order to beat, you know, some of the bigger teams, you've got to be able to score a drive. So just seeing them score a couple yesterday was a bit better. Although we're still sort of way off, I think where we need to be, I think across the board. You know, for large parts of the game yesterday, you know, Japan looked to be in control and, you know, looked to be attacking us and taking us on, and we just didn't have the response that we probably needed. I think probably the last 20 minutes or so for the Scoreline flattened in England a bit but it's two from two and sometimes you've just gotta win games and, you know, we're sitting in a better place now with Samoa and Chile to still play.
So yes, England, two from two. But yeah, lots of work still to be done. I think one of the teams I have been impressed with is Fiji. You know, I put them down as sort of one of the teams to cause an upset. And I mean, they should have won that, that first game against Wales. That was such a great game. You know, I don't know since just watching them beat England at Twickenham, they just seem to be, you know, playing with confidence. They've got some outstanding athletes. They love to play with ball in hand, love to take people on, and yeah, they would've been bitterly disappointed if we didn't beat Wales, but you know, what, a win against Australia. They're really gonna cause, you know, a few teams problems and now has made that pool you know, even more difficult.
So it's gonna be a real challenge in that pool to see who's gonna come out on top. But yeah, that's sort of exciting. And I've been impressed with some of the other teams. I mean, it's just looking at the scores you know, Uruguay in my mind, I just, I had France beating them by a cricket score, and I don't know if that was my ignorance or fair play to them. 27 12. I mean, that's a result, you know, you're playing against one of the best teams in the world. And there's a few, there've been a couple of big results, but I think across the board, Portugal playing Wales you know, held their own and they've been to Chile when they took on Japan. They've been playing some good rugby. So, I don't think the gap is as wide as it has been in the past. I remember playing against Uruguay and beating them 111 or something, you know, to three, you know, so fair play to some of the smaller nations. They're certainly not coming here to be bowled over.
I think it's more about the backs than anything else. We saw in the first game against Argentina, excuse me, that, you know, England got the set pace right. Were physical, even going down by a man after two minutes, which, I don't think was the right call, but England looked a lot sort of tougher, just setting pace was good. I think the only thing that let them down was really sort of getting this back line to fire. And I think that one of Steve Borthwick's challenges now is the back line. You know, I think George Ford got loads of raps for his performance against Argentina. You know, I don't think England as a back line, you know, was where it needed to be yesterday against Japan. So I think that's one of the keys. And, you know, Owen Farrow's coming back in. So what happens there? Does 40 stay at 10. Is Owen, you know, kept on the team? Are they gonna play him in the centre?
And I think this has been one of the challenges that England had for so long, who actually plays in that back line. You know, who plays at 10? Who's playing in the centres. And you know, this is something that Steve's gonna have to sort out because we need to get it firing. We need to get, you know, I don't think Johnny May touched the ball in the first half. I mean, as a winger, I'd be furious. It's all well and good, I know, tactics and territory and everything else, but you do want to be able to showcase what you've got, you need the ball to do that. So, I'd, I'd love to see, yeah, this back line function and just like other teams, you know, other teams are taking people on that are causing problems or stretching teams. You can't just play set pieces. You can't just play a kicking game, you know, you've got to mix it up. You've gotta play wide, you've gotta put some moves on, you've gotta ask questions. And right now I think that's Steve Borthwick's biggest headache on what they play and who's gonna play it.
Who makes the team every time? Oh, I mean, probably a quieter game yesterday, but sort of backs wise I think Freddy Stewart's been one of the most solid players for England over the last couple of years. I think Ford's gonna be in there. When you look at Ford, Farrell and Smith, I think Ford sits in probably a sweet spot between both, you know, we can play, but also have the experience to close down games and play in a certain way. You know, Tualagi is probably gonna be in there. Because as a carrier normally especially in that first game, you know, in some of the big hits, I think they need something up the middle, if not to punch some holes, you know, to be a threat, to keep that defence honest.
So that if they want to play out the back, you know, he will suck quite a few players in and they can play out the back. But I mean, listen, guys like Itoje, you've got you know, I like [inaudible 09:17] Genji, and Jamie George, I mean, we got, listen, I don't think the team's not gonna change that much. I really don't think the team's gonna change that much. What you can't do at this point is keep chopping and changing, you know, we almost, there might be one or two changes in each game. I expect if we're playing Chile, there'll be a whole change. We need to give some of the senior guys a rest. But yeah, guys like Laws, you know, especially in that first game as well, you know, having that captaincy. You know, I think we worked really hard. The breakdown was strong.
So, but yeah, so I don't think there's really gonna be many changes. I think the key thing is who plays at 10, which, you know, it seems at the moment until something else happened, Ford is at 10. It's just gonna be a case of, we have to get this back line sorted out. I don't think we're too far off with other parts of our game. We've shown we can be physical. We've shown, you know, we set pace discipline. It's obviously a key one as well. You can't, you know, going down to 14 players, it's never an easy thing, especially at this level. So yeah, I think after last night's game, they'll be glad they've got two from two, but they're way off, I think, where they need to be at the moment.
No, I think we're seeing from lots of teams now you know, similar things. Unfortunately, what we're not getting is consistency in how it's dealt with. You know, if Curry's going off and has got two matches, then that should have happened, I think Jesse Kriel. And then there's the Chile game as well. I think there's been another two or three incidents post Curry that have not received the same discipline. So same sanctions. So yeah, I know it's the letter of the law, but we're not using Common Sense. And I think if we're not going to use common sense, you know, we're gonna find that it's going to spoil games because you can just see from fans and players' reaction, there's no consistency in it. And it's causing problems.
Games can be won, and lost, you know, in the blink of an eye. It's a physical game. There's going to be times where players don't get certain things right? Just because of the nature of the game. It's fast, it's intense, you're setting yourself up to stop somebody who's 20 stone. You know, you can't go into it lightly. You've gotta throw everything you've got into it. And sometimes, when you've got moving parts, sometimes you can make mistakes. And quite often you have a good idea if something's intent or not. And if somebody clashes face to face, I mean, I don't care how much of a nutcase you are, you are not going to just put your face in and get caught up, it's just not what you would do.
So we need a bit of consistency in the laws and from the referees and those that are dealing with it. But yeah, I just hope it doesn't go too far the other way because, you know, if you go to watch a boxing match, well, somebody's going to get punched in the face. And if you change boxing so people can only hit in the stomach, well, you've just ruined boxing. So nobody wants to, I'm all for player welfare, making sure players are safe, but sometimes things will happen. It's the nature of the game, and as long as it's not done with intent, I think it should be dealt with accordingly.
Yeah, he's one of the key players. I mean, I've sort of been a fan of Ford for a long time now. I think he is very experienced. He's been around the block, he's done some great stuff for Leicester in the past. Obviously now at Sale Sharks. But I think from an English point of view, we need somebody that's got a bit of experience, but we need somebody that is willing to play as well. So I think that game against Argentina was a massive boost. Because England needed something and it seemed that he certainly had a platform to work off, with some of those drop goals. I loved scoring tries myself and attacking rugby. But sometimes you need to get the job done. And he was kicking them from the halfway line.
So I mean, he's put himself in there, this is a great thing about this team, there's a lot of positions that are up for grabs. If you have a solid game, a good game, then there's no reason why you can't grab one of those shirts. And I think that's, you know, Ford's done that in one game. Had Farrell not been on a red card probably Farrell would've started at 10 and Fordy might not have got his opportunity. So it's up to him now to take that on and really get this to work with the centres, work with Manu and really get this back line going. Because as I say, when they come into the potential quarter finals, you're going to be playing teams where you're going to have to create something, and start scoring tries, and hopefully get seven points instead of three.
They could, they could do, and they probably might do. I can't see Steve Borthwick leaving Owen Farrell out. I just can't see it. So you would probably play one at 10 and one in the centre. Obviously Fordy you could only play at 10. So I would envisage that Owen would probably play at centre at this moment in time. But, again, this is the challenge that England has had for so long. Where do you play people? Is Owen a 10, is he a 12? And that's where there's this massive question mark. England have got to find out very quickly where people are playing and ideally keep them in that position and just let them have some game time together.
So they could do, they have done in the past. Sometimes it works out for you if you have two fly halfs, two tens in there because you've got different kicking options, handling options. And you've got two people that know each other as well, and they kind of came through the junior ranks together as well. You know, they can complement each other. It just depends on how steep a ball he wants to play.
Ooh, my favourite players to watch? I mean, start with France. Antoine Dupont is one of the best players in the world at the moment. And in a game where everybody just seems to be getting bigger and stronger, you see some of the smaller players that are able to do everything that anybody else can do and more besides. His work is great, he can put people through holes, he can create himself, great kicking game. Real sort of talisman for the French team and French rugby at the moment. So he's one to watch. I love players like Cheslin Kolbe and Arendse from South Africa, just that footwork. Again, not very big players, but the speed, the pace, the balance, you know, the ability to score tries, to get stuck in as well. So, yeah, I'd say I watch those guys all day. I really enjoy watching them.
Well, they're the number one team in the world and rightly so, they’ve had some good results over the last couple of years. They went out to New Zealand to beat them in a three test series in New Zealand, which very rarely, if ever, gets done. So I think Andy Farrell has brought a new confidence into this Irish team. There's a lot of pressure on them because history says, in previous World Cups they haven't done well. This is Ireland's best chance of progressing, it's the best chance ever. And I think he's probably the right man to steer them in that way. He's a young coach, as a player himself he's had a lot of experience. He knows how to deal with the big games, the pressures, etcetera.
And I think that's coming through with him as a coach now. They all seem to love him. They all seem to want to play for him. And I mean, they're in a tough group as well, South Africa, Scotland, it's not an easy group. But they will progress. It's just how far they can go. And they've certainly got the players to do it. But as you go on in this tournament, the pressure starts to mount and it'll be interesting to see how they deal with that as a team and see how the results go. The next game is a key one because yeah, Ireland play South Africa. So that's gonna be key for the group to see where they stand at the end of it.
I think psychologically as well, it will make a difference to who wins that game. So that's their key clash in this pool. But yeah, I expect them to qualify and get into the quarters. And I mean, thankfully for England the draw was done years and years ago. Because it's favoured England, and not most of the teams. I think Ireland will certainly be up there towards the end of the tournament. It's just whether or not they can go all the way. But they've certainly got a good team.
I suppose because they regularly play with each other. It's a higher level, you know, in the past just seeing New Zealand playing Australia, Argentina, South Africa, that's very tough. It raises the level. We've seen over the years with Argentina being involved in the championship, they've produced better performances. But saying that, if you look at the tournament this time round, Ireland and France have just as good chances as any of the Southern Hemisphere teams. So I don't think we're a million miles away at the moment. And listen, time will tell, I hope another Northern Hemisphere team wins the World Cup. It'd be great if it was Ireland, it'd be great if it was France. But I think the great thing about a World Cup tournament is we will see the best of the best play each other. And you'll know then just how close or how far the Northern Hemisphere teams are away from the Southern Hemisphere teams.
Yeah, I mean, it's great because you do have the support of the nation. You know, French Rugby has been in a good place recently, and especially because of the form of the national team, it can work both ways. In 2015 it worked against England, first team to ever go out that early, which was an absolute nightmare. So I think that's why it was so key for France to win that first game. Because it can put you under so much pressure as a host nation if you're not performing and not winning games. So,I think the fact that France is the host nation, I think it will help them as opposed to hinder them. I think the mood in France, the atmosphere, they sense something, there's a lot of expectation and it's just really whether those players can deliver under such pressures. But I think they’re certainly a team that can, especially with Dupont being the leader.
Yeah, I probably mentioned him already, Cheslin Kolbe, I think almost a younger version of me. Yeah, I think there's a couple in there. But he would probably stand out as the closest to how I used to play.
Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of other sports are starting to do it now.Somehow it just doesn't work in football. I don't think anybody likes it in football, but I think with most of the sports now, I think technology is always going to play a part, because there's so much on the games. It's hard for referees with a naked eye and the speed sport is played to make the correct call. So, they need as much help as possible. Again, for me it's all well and good having laws, but there's really just got to be some common sense because otherwise everything's gonna become robotic. We're going to lose what I feel are some of the key things about the game and the physicality of the game, it's got to be in there.
I know they are trialling stuff with tackles, below the sternum and stuff like that. I just hope it doesn't go the other way, because I know there'll be a lot of people put off by it. It's a physical game, let's try and minimise any head contact, but there's got to be those big hits. People get excited about those big hits. What drew me to the game was the physicality that it has, if we lose that, I think we'll lose rugby.
Just unbelievable. I mean, I was lucky enough to have an amazing rugby league career, and one of the reasons I went to Rugby Union was for the international side because it was so much bigger and better organised under Woodward and everything he wanted to try and achieve and do with an England team. And you know, for me, being in that team and the timing, it couldn't have been any better. What I brought to the England team, these are not my words, they’re other people's words, I was a missing piece of the jigsaw. England were in a good place. But I brought something just slightly different to everybody else. And as a result, we got that famous win out in Australia, in dramatic circumstances.
It's changed all our lives. It's the 20th anniversary. I've seen the guys probably more in the last couple of months than I've done in the last 20 years. It's great to see them, we did something special and we gave the nation something to be proud of. So yeah, I feel honoured to have been part of it. And I think that's why you want some others to experience it because, you know, you can win all kinds of medals in your career, but there's very few people that will ever get to play in a World Cup, nevermind win one. So yeah, it's amazing the achievement and something that I get reminded about probably most days, where people were watching it, their views on it. And it's nice when you can play a sport, something that you love, yet still have an opportunity to affect so many people.
All the time. All the time. Yeah, it's all part of the game, I suppose. That's why I worked on my footwork to avoid as many as possible. And it's funny enough, it's the ones where you're not looking are the ones that hurt the most. Like, if you run at somebody, yes, it's gonna hurt, but you’re braced for it. It's almost when you catch a ball from one side and somebody hits you from the other side, and you're just not expecting it. But I've given some, I've taken some, I've been knocked out, I've got all kinds of stuff. But I love the game for what it is. And the challenge for me being a relatively small guy, to have the challenge of bringing down some of these bloody giraffes, you know, 6 foot 10, bloody 23 stone. I mean, that's a huge challenge in itself. But one I love doing so yeah, I've had my fair share, but that's why I worked on my footwork. So I was able to walk at the age I am now, instead of getting beat up for a living.
Yeah, I mean that's where the test is. And you know, you can come on the scene and score a few tries and do a couple of good things, but when you play against the best teams, you don't get as much time, they put you under more pressure. They don't make as many mistakes, they don't let you get away with stuff. So that for me is where you want to be, where you have very tiny margins for error. You get a penalty, you get punished if you make errors because they're just so good. And I've always enjoyed playing the better teams more than beating a team by 80 points. I've never really learned much about myself from when we played in those games. But guarantee, you come up against, you know, Jonah Lomu or a Ma'a Nonu or some beast like that and you're in for it, you know you've gotta be on the money today, otherwise you’re going to be made to look stupid. So I would always prefer to play against the best teams on the biggest stages, because I think that's what brings the best out in me.
Very uncomfortable. I really shouldn't have played because I had a grade two, I should have been off I think for about five weeks, six weeks. And then I came back after about two and a half weeks. But then every time I played I sort of re-tore it. So I never trained for about three weeks. It was just a case of try and get right, play a game, kind of repeat, try and get right. And that was my remaining games as an England player, because I was retiring after the World Cup. So it was great that I got to come back, because it was the second game where we got beaten by South Africa, 36-0. If that was my last international match, it would've been a nightmare because we got absolutely hammered. But thankfully we managed to stumble through the pool stages and then play against Australia in Marseille.
This is why this tournament's really interesting because on that night in 2007 we beat Australia, which nobody thought we'd do. And then France beat New Zealand and then the whole tournament was turned on its head in one night. And that's what can happen. So you know, for us it was great because we went on to beat France in the semi and then got to a final and it was 15-9 I think was the score. So we didn't lose by much. So even though you're not always playing, you're not always in great form, you can find it and you can go on a run and surprise yourself really. So I'm hoping that's gonna be the case for this England team. And we somehow just managed to win games but also try to find better form, especially further down the line when you come up against some of the better teams.
I think, again, timing was great for me because I went into a good team surrounded by some great players. But I think for me it's a case of you don't need to know everything, you just need to be good at something. And I knew what I was good at. I worked my backside off. I got mad. I worked really hard and had to learn new skills and probably brought a bit of humility into it as well. And as a result, I backed myself and everything went really, really well. I think there's not been loads of players that have done it, I think sometimes some of those players that have tried to become union players, that's where they've struggled a bit.
I think sometimes you've just got to be true to yourself and don't change your game too much, otherwise you change who you are and what you are. I think that's what made the difference for me because I didn't do what every other winger or fallback would normally do. I would just, instead of kicking, I would just run it, most of the time. And as a result, of course it causes loads more problems. Rugby league will be completely different, it's only when you play at a high level that you realise just how difficult it is. But if you want something bad enough and you work hard, then you've got an opportunity of fulfilling your dreams and thankfully I did.
One would be the State of Origin. I wouldn't mind playing in that, because they just look brutal. They're just knocking lumps out of each other. And I don't know why I'd want to get caved in, but it's at a level that you just think anytime I watch Rugby league and see a State of Origin, I don't know. There's just something about it. You just think, yeah, that looks cool. And then maybe for a New Zealand team, you know I mean New Zealand has been the form national team for so many years now. It would be interesting to pull on those shirts and see what it's all about.
No. I'd probably have to throw a few Lionel Richie moves in there or something. I'm not sure my Haka would be too great to be honest with you.
It was amazing for me because I actually started a Lions test match before I started an England test match. I came off the bench three times for England, and then after that I went on a Lions tour and started every test. So I mean, it was great for me. It was great for me because I had an opportunity to learn from some of the best players in the Northern Hemisphere. And Brian was one of them. He was only a young lad at the time, so we roomed together. It seemed to be the tour for us that really put us on the map. You know, we both were playing well. That first test going into the Gabba was amazing. We both scored and yeah, just a fantastic experience, you know, you might have the England shirt, but it doesn't need to be said that you're gonna have the Lion's shirt, you know, you're going to back the other players.
So it was tough. It was brutal. It was a really tough series. It was a tough tour. Especially because I had switched over from Rugby League to Union, because I'd already played 35 games before I made the switch. So in total I played 60 games that year. So I was absolutely knackered by the end of it. But what an experience, the Lions in rugby is one of the best experiences as a player. And also for fans to go out, it’s the only time where fans from other nations will cheer you on. Normally you'd be just getting heckled and abused, but when it comes to the Lions, everybody buys into that shirt. The history it pulls together as one and it's quite a force when it gets some momentum.
Jonah Lomu. I don't need to think too much about that, an absolute beast. He’s passed away, but, you know, way ahead of his time. If you could've built a player and taken ingredients from the lot, he would be that player. Because he was so strong, he was big, he was tough, he was fast. He could step, you know, smash people, traumatise teams, score tries. You know, just, yeah, for me, like the best player by far.
So yeah, I always wanted to play for Leeds as a boy. And listen, it just didn't work out for me. There's another lad that they chose to take instead of me, and it was a blessing in disguise, it made me realise it's not always good to get what you want. Because had I gone to Leeds at the time, Leeds weren't winning anything and I probably wouldn't have won anything. Whereas I went to Wigan, signed as a 16 year old and then, went on to win every trophy there was to win. So I think the timing for me going to Wigan in the 90s when they were so dominant was key for me in my development. But I must admit, I would've loved to have just played maybe one season for Leeds because it was my hometown club and you know, I'm a Leeds lad and anytime we're going to end up playing Leeds would be my next favorite team. But as I say, sometimes it just doesn't work out that way.
Oh, I mean, saying that there's some great players for both Wigan and St. Helen's. It just seems they have been in there for about 50 years. Yeah, just keep producing all the time. You know, we have got Bevan French and Joe Fields at the moment. They are just tearing it up. They're doing some amazing things and it almost reminds me a little bit of myself and Martin back in the day, cutting teams up and scoring some good old tries. But I don't know, it was in different eras. I think back in the day, every team had some real, real characters. Even some of the clubs towards the foot of the table, they'd always have somebody, either looking to knock your head off or just like a pantomime sometimes. We'd have some players in there that sort of had a reputation. If it wasn't for big tackles, it'd be something else. It'd be forearms or whatever.