Rugby: Robshaw must step up for England if Wallabies are to be downed

England's Chris Robshaw during a press conference.
England's Chris Robshaw during a press conference.PHOTO: REUTERS

The England team have been in the critical eye of the media at home and across the world as the most anticipated game of the 2015 Rugby World Cup thus far beckons.

England vs Australia (Sunday, 2.45am, Live on FOX Sports 2, Singtel Ch 115 and StarHub Ch 209) was always going to be one to watch from day one of the tournament. But with so much more on the line now, this game has taken on another dimension.

Leadership on and off the field has been called into question for England and to be fair, Chris Robshaw's decision to go for the win rather than the tie against Wales will be debated long after this tournament is over.

Japan's Captain Michael Leitch made a similar decision and the result, of course, was a different one, and he was lauded after the upset over South Africa.

It is not easy being a captain on the rugby field, and in most times it is not one man's decision,but that of a wider leadership group. A captain is the coach and decision maker on the field, and such is the game that crucial decisions are taken out of the hands of the coaching team and into the hands of the players once the whistle blows.

One man cannot do it all, and it takes the senior players to step up and support. The leadership of a rugby team is very much like running a small business. Little wonder why many captains of industry include being the captain of their rugby team in their resume.

The best captains will have to be able to pick up his peers and motivate them more than the coach in the changing room. I have had the pleasure and honour to have played with some truly inspirational captains, and there are many types with no one-size-fits-all.

Some are all fire-and-brimstone, and others are quiet and lead by example. Everyone needs to respond to the captain.

Robshaw has a mountain of a task ahead of him, but he has been there before and needs to be entrusted to carry his team through come Sunday morning. A country demands it.

England seemed to be at sixes and sevens at times during their narrow defeat to Wales, and yet another centre pairing has been named to start. Jonathan Joseph and Brad Barritt will need to combine well to counter the pairing of Tevita Kuridrani and Matt Giteau.

Joseph will be looked at to give England the creative spark that lauded rugby league convert Sam Burgees failed to provide against Wales.

They will need to content with the lung-bursting runs of the ACT Brumbies' Kuridrani feeding off the guile and poise of the experienced Giteau. This could spell trouble.

It does seem that the stage is set for Australia to win, but such has been this tournament that there is no such thing as a sure thing.

I am slightly biased of course. Having lived in Australia for a number of years, I was fortunate to experience first-hand not only their rugby culture, but their sporting culture. They too have a nation that expects back home.

Australia come into this game on the back of a dominant performance against Uruguay, who did not test them for prolonged periods. Coach Michael Chieka has the luxury of having a leadership team that moulds as one.

Stephen Moore is the captain, but the likes of Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Bernard Foley and Matt Giteau have either skippered their club, provincial or country at some stage.

Their aligment as a team has been one to admire as it could be very prickly if not handled correctly.

Phil Waugh was a tank of a man and a great player who played for Australia from 2000 to 2009. It is often said he would have featured more for the Wallabies if he had not had to compete with George Smith for a starting spot in those teams.

Smith is still playing professionally for English giants Wasps at 35 and has such great poise on the field and humilty off it. To have two players of such calibre in the same specialist position at the same time is akin to having two great goalkeepers on the same football team.

The solution at the time was to play both of them, adjusting their positions slightly. Australia have the same situation with David Pocock and Michael Hooper - two great players who are on the same pitch and have been devastating so far.

I'm looking forward to that battle in the forwards as the English had some problems with managing Hooper when the two sides last met last year.

Whichever side of the pond you stand on come Sunday, this will be a game to watch and cheer with gusto, and another feather in what has been a great tournament to date.

You can never count England out at home, and many will hope that this is not the same journey their football team have been through so many times.

stsports@sph.com.sg

Note: Jonathan Leow, 35, was a Singapore national rugby player and previously coached the national Under-19 team. He also played for the University of Sydney and in the lower divisions in New Zealand. He is currently the vice-president of the Singapore Rugby Union and the organising committee chairman of the Singapore Cricket Club International Rugby Sevens.