Robert Kitson

Author's details

Name: Robert Kitson
Date registered: October 11, 2014

Latest posts

  1. Warren Gatland refines search for bearers of Lions pride | Robert Kitson — March 21, 2017
  2. England’s defeat by Ireland a necessary wake-up call for Eddie Jones — March 19, 2017
  3. Ben Youngs: ‘It won’t feel like we’ve won the Six Nations unless we beat Ireland’ — March 17, 2017
  4. ‘We were blown away by the fervour of the Irish. We weren’t ready for it’ — March 15, 2017
  5. England’s class of ’92 offer lesson in collective improvement for current crop | Robert Kitson — March 14, 2017

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Mar 21

Warren Gatland refines search for bearers of Lions pride | Robert Kitson

Coach has four weeks to put together a squad capable of overpowering the All Blacks for the first time since 1971

Picking the best British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand has long been a fraught job. In 1993, as now, England had just lost to Ireland in Dublin on the final weekend and the selectors were required to gather the following day. “We spent the next eight hours arguing,” recalls the then assistant coach Dick Best. “At one stage we had 21 England players on the tour but because we’d lost to Ireland it got whittled down to 17. Afterwards Ian McGeechan said: ‘I’m not going again unless I can select the team.’”

Related: Six Nations 2017 verdict: Guardian writers choose their highs and lows

The hardest thing is normally the last four or five players, with the right personalities, people who are going to be good tourists

Related: New Zealand media on England loss: ‘Stuffed plastic bags in need of a trolley’

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Mar 19

England’s defeat by Ireland a necessary wake-up call for Eddie Jones

There is no shame in losing 13-9 to Ireland but, regardless of the tricky conditions, England also made a major contribution to their own downfall

In 30 years’ time most people looking at the 2017 Six Nations table will assume England enjoyed a truly golden season. Dylan Hartley’s team retained their title, finished the tournament with their second-highest haul of tries since 2004 and equalled the world record for successive major Test victories. The squad is still mostly young and only New Zealand are placed above them in the world rankings.

Those with longer memories, though, will not forget the hefty dose of perspective dished out by Ireland on the concluding weekend in a contest that left numerous uneasy questions hanging in the drizzly Dublin air.

Related: England pursuit of grand slam and record foiled by defiant Ireland

Related: England finishers hit endgame against Ireland’s unyielding Johnny Sexton | Andy Bull

Related: Ireland 13-9 England: how the Six Nations players in Dublin rated

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Mar 17

Ben Youngs: ‘It won’t feel like we’ve won the Six Nations unless we beat Ireland’

England scrum-half is embracing the challenge of chasing history and aims to avoid the strange feeling of losing but winning in 2011

Just occasionally, photographers are right to insist a picture says more than a thousand words. The victory photos taken on the final night of the 2011 Six Nations are a prime example: England in their Dublin hotel, ties at half-mast, trying to look like contented champions but fooling no one. Such is bittersweet life for tournament winners who have just missed out on a grand slam.

Even six years on, Ben Youngs does not even try to supply an upbeat caption. “That was a strange one,” he says, recalling the last time England crossed the Irish Sea in search of a clean sweep only to lose 24-8 and have the edge removed from their title celebrations. “It just doesn’t seem right to lose a game and then go and get a trophy, does it?” This time the scrum‑half, one of six 2011 survivors in the visitors’ squad, would prefer a more uplifting memento for his downstairs loo.

Related: Six Nations: seven things to look out for this weekend

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Mar 15

‘We were blown away by the fervour of the Irish. We weren’t ready for it’

A decade on from England’s historic visit to Croke Park their head coach at the time, Brian Ashton, recounts how his players became overawed by the occasion

Brian Ashton remembers the sense of foreboding, even now. As an ex-head coach of Ireland he should, theoretically, have been more prepared than most for England’s Six Nations trip to Dublin 10 years ago. Even before the anthems at Croke Park, however, he had a feeling in his bones: “I remember going on the pitch 45 minutes before kick-off. It is very rare for modern stadiums to be full that early but Croke Park was. You could have cut the atmosphere with the proverbial knife. I wouldn’t say it was scary but it was quite intimidating.”

Whatever the physical reception grand slam-chasing England receive from their hosts this weekend, it will be nothing compared to that 2007 fixture, switched to the Gaelic Athletic Association’s giant citadel while the crumbling old Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped. All the pre-match talk had been of ‘Bloody Sunday’ , when British soldiers opened fire on crowds watching a GAA match at Croke Park in 1920, killing 14 people, and the prospect of Ireland losing to England at rugby union was out of the question. “It was phenomenal,” recalls Ashton, reflecting on Ireland’s 43-13 victory. “I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in anything remotely like that.

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Mar 14

England’s class of ’92 offer lesson in collective improvement for current crop | Robert Kitson

The team heading to Dublin seeking consecutive grand slams for the first time in 25 years ‘could become the best England side ever’, believes Peter Winterbottom

Back-to-back grand slams take some winning. The last time England managed the feat was in 1992, the heyday of Will Carling, Peter Winterbottom, Dean Richards, Jeremy Guscott, Rory Underwood et al, which shows the exalted company Dylan Hartley’s team are trying to join. If they do defeat Ireland on Saturday to complete a second successive full house, their achievement will stand history’s definitive test.

Even a quarter of a century later, the class of ’92 can still recall every little detail of their fabled campaign. They had great players but, then as now, were bruised by previous failure, most recently their 1991 World Cup final defeat to Australia. Their newly appointed coach, Dick Best, was certainly feeling the pressure before the championship. “I thought: Jesus, the only difference from last year is me,” Best says. “If we don’t win another grand slam, guess who they’ll point the finger at?”

Related: England happy to wait until they can step out from All Blacks’ shadow | Andy Bull

Related: How Ireland mood music has changed as record-chasing England loom | Brendan Fanning

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Mar 13

Eddie Jones stokes All Blacks rivalry but warns of Ireland backlash

• England coach likens New Zealand’s Steve Hansen to Big Bad Wolf
• ‘Winning back-to-back grand slams is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

Eddie Jones has stoked the rivalry between England and New Zealand by comparing his All Black counterpart, Steve Hansen, to the cunning Big Bad Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood and warning his players not to be seduced by the warm words of praise from the southern hemisphere over the weekend.

New Zealand’s head coach was complimentary about England following their 61-21 win against Scotland, suggesting they looked fitter and more motivated than they had done previously. Jones, however, suspects Hansen of trying to lull his squad – and, potentially, the British & Irish Lions – into a false sense of security. “It’s a bit like Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf when the wolf comes dressed up as the grandmother,” Jones said. “When an All Black coach is complimenting you, you always have to be careful.”

Related: England happy to wait until they can step out from All Blacks’ shadow | Andy Bull

Related: How England equalled New Zealand’s 18-match winning streak, match by match | Gerard Meagher

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Mar 12

George Ford says England are in no mood to ease up against Ireland

• England fly-half excited about making history in Dublin
• New Zealand coach Steve Hansen praised Eddie Jones’s work

England’s players are looking to “create history” in Dublin on Saturday despite having already sealed this year’s Six Nations title with a record-equalling 61-21 win over Scotland. The players are not simply determined to be the first English side since 1992 to complete back-to-back grand slams but are also motivated by the chance to overhaul New Zealand’s world record of 18 successive Test victories by a tier-one nation.

Related: England and Jonathan Joseph thump Scotland to seal Six Nations title

Related: George North’s two tries drive Wales past Ireland in thundering win

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Mar 11

England need to make their familiar strengths pay against Scotland | Robert Kitson

Despite closing in on a world record for consecutive wins England have been unconvincing of late and the visitors will pose some awkward questions

There appear to be two Englands out there, both coached by the same man. The first lot are unbeaten in 17 Tests, still have improvement in them and possess the most influential bench in world rugby. The second mob are in average form, have injury problems and are starting to be seen as potentially vulnerable. Increasingly, it feels like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are playing in front of the West Stand debenture seats.

If it seems slightly perverse to imagine such a successful side wrestling with a split personality, consider the Six Nations to date. France looked the more impressive team for lengthy periods on the first weekend, only for Ben Te’o to come on and punish the visitors’ waning fitness. Wales would have won in Cardiff but for Elliot Daly’s face-saving late try. Italy trailed 17-15 with 10 minutes left before they, too, ran out of gas. Despite the continuing uncertainty over Owen Farrell’s left knee, England are collectively fit but dominant 80-minute performances have been absent lately.

Related: England to make 11th-hour call on Owen Farrell’s fitness to face Scotland

Related: Four victories since 1911 and 34 winless years: will Scotland end Twickenham hoodoo? | Bryn Palmer

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Mar 10

James Haskell: ‘It’s hard labour being a forward … we’re like removal men’

An England player’s day ‘is full-on from 7.30am to when you stretch at nine at night’, says Haskell. Nothing, however, subdues the back-row’s ebullience

Little did James Haskell guess when he ran out to play Uruguay in Manchester on 10 October 2015 that he and England would still be unbeaten 17 Tests and 518 days later. The World Cup dead rubber was widely seen as a fixture destined to go straight to video (or Montevideo in this case), notable only as Stuart Lancaster’s last stand. No one, Haskell included, imagined it would herald such a sparkling new dawn.

No fewer than 14 of the match-day 23 who shared in that 60-3 thrashing of Uruguay – the figure would be higher if George Kruis and Chris Robshaw were fit – will also face Scotland in the Six Nations, with a chance of matching New Zealand as, statistically, the most successful team in major Test history. Haskell, about to win his 74th cap and become England’s sixth most capped forward of all time, sounds understandably grateful: “I wasn’t sure I was going to be involved again in the England set-up or part of anything. I don’t want to be dramatic but when I was injured last year there were a lot of times when I didn’t even know if I was going to get back for Wasps. I didn’t dream I was going to get back for England.”

Related: England to make 11th-hour call on Owen Farrell’s fitness to face Scotland

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Mar 09

Eddie Jones’s prickliness highlights England’s edginess as Scotland loom | Robert Kitson

The unspoken message before the Calcutta Cup is that the Six Nations title holders must harden up mentally, crank up the intensity and bristle a little more

What should have been a serene week of Calcutta Cup preparation for England is proving to be the opposite. Even the beautiful spring weather in Bagshot could not distract from the untimely training ground knock suffered by Owen Farrell, nor a strange, prickly press conference grudgingly given by Eddie Jones. Any undercover Scottish visitors would have gone away feeling faintly encouraged.

Farrell is expected to be fine but, either way, England are currently in slightly edgy mode. That is almost certainly Jones’s deliberate objective: to jolt his players out of any complacency and encourage them to assume more responsibility rather than hiding behind their head coach’s extensive collection of bon mots. Before each of his side’s three matches so far he has talked a good game, only to find himself relying on the last-quarter impact of his bench players and the squad’s collective fitness. The unspoken message this week, accordingly, is that England cannot bank on retaining their title unless they harden up mentally, crank up the intensity and bristle a little more.

Related: Owen Farrell set to face Scotland in Six Nations despite injury scare

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Mar 07

Jonny Gray leads Scotland Six Nations title charge but they can still improve | Robert Kitson

Scotland’s push for a first Six Nations crown takes the mind back to the champions of 1999 with several of this squad also worthy of a British and Irish Lions place

The tartan endgame is straightforward enough. Scotland need only beat England at Twickenham on Saturday, defeat Italy with a bonus point the following weekend, pour out a generous whisky and wait. Like an early clubhouse leader in the Open, they would be sitting pretty on 18 points, potentially enough to win a first Six Nations title should England fail to escape the Dublin equivalent of the Road Hole bunker. Nae pressure, lads.

The golfing analogy, at least, is a promising one: the last Scottish golfer to win the Open was Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999, the same year Scotland secured the last-ever Five Nations trophy. That season the Scots lost 24-21 at Twickenham but conjured a glorious victory over France at the Stade de France, making England pay for their final day stumble against Wales at Wembley. Nicking titles from beneath more fancied noses has long been a favoured Caledonian pastime.

Related: Hamish Watson: ‘I hung a saltire in my bedroom to prove I was Scottish’

Related: Tim Visser’s heroics help Scotland end Six Nations losing streak against Wales

Related: Worcester take giant leap towards safety by hitting Bristol for six

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Mar 06

England’s Courtney Lawes says: ‘We’ve a massive target on our backs’

• Rivals are ‘stepping up their game’ in attempt to beat Six Nations leaders
• Lawes aware of Scotland’s skills and motivation for Twickenham

England’s players insist they are not driven by chasing records as they approach the “business end” of a gripping Six Nations Championship this season. One more victory would equal New Zealand’s all‑time record for successive wins by a tier-one nation but Courtney Lawes says the team are focused purely on the threat offered by Scotland on Saturday.

Lawes, who has started all three of England’s Six Nations wins this season – against France, Wales and Italy – believes that matching the All Blacks’ sequence of 18 successive victories between 2015 and 2016 is a potential distraction from the primary job of preventing Scotland from triumphing at Twickenham for the first time since 1983. “Records come and go but I want to be part of a successful team.That’s the most important thing for me,” Lawes said.

Related: Ben Youngs backs returning Vunipola brothers to power England’s Grand Slam push | Paul Rees

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Mar 03

Alex Goode on England and the pain of being dropped: ‘It’s incredibly tough’

‘I know if I play unbelievably well there is a chance’ says the Saracens full-back who has fallen down the pecking order under Eddie Jones

Alex Goode feels the sense of separation most intensely during the anthems. His coping mechanism is to avoid Twickenham on match days and, even at home in north London, to delay watching England play on television until God Save The Queen is over: “People ask me why I don’t watch the games at the stadium. They’re quite surprised when I say I’d rather not be there. For me, hearing the national anthem as a player is the best thing in the world. I’m desperate to be out there but I can’t be. That’s hard to take.”

Such is life on the edges of top-level sport, cropped out of the celebratory pictures as the team keeps winning without you. In Goode’s case the angst has been compounded: a week after being unceremoniously dropped from Eddie Jones’s unbeaten England squad in late December, he tore ankle ligaments against Exeter and has not played since. Last season’s Premiership player of the year remains among the smartest creators of space in Europe, but the fates can be fickle. Those who reckon professional rugby players enjoy the life of Riley do not always see the out-of-favour athlete hunched in a chair in a small room in St Albans.

Related: Billy Vunipola could be back for England’s Six Nations match with Scotland

Related: Why would anyone drop the All Blacks to play for Ulster? Charles Piutau explains

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Feb 27

England’s players must develop quick wits however odd Jones’s complaints | Robert Kitson

The England coach tried to divert attention from the tactical bafflement shown against Italy and this week’s relocation of Six Nations squad training to Oxford will see an attempt to make brains match brawn

When Eddie Jones decided to relocate squad training to Oxford this week he was unaware how appropriate his choice would turn out to be. The old university city is full of brilliant thinkers and, boy, could England do with a mind-expanding seminar or two. Rugby will forever demand physicality but if Jones’s team wish to win another Six Nations grand slam they will need to exhibit more brainpower than they did against Italy.

It was not simply the prolonged failure to find a way around the Azzurri’s cute diversionary ruck tactics – odd as that appeared in an era when coaches can get messages on to the field almost instantly. More glaring still was the lack of mental flexibility, the bafflement and the sheer confusion when the anticipated masterplan – a 60-point romp in this instance – unravelled. At times it was like watching 15 Daleks stuck at the bottom of an unexpected staircase.

Related: England were foxed and frustrated by Italy’s creative use of a legal loophole | Andy Bull

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Feb 24

Alastair Cook’s England visit before Italy game begs cricket score gags

Training for Eddie Jones’s team has been about staying ruthless – ‘we want to play with real pressure and intent’ against Six Nations whipping boys

Italy will be in trouble if England score as many tries as they have had high-profile touchline guests watch them train lately. Chelsea’s Antonio Conte and the erstwhile Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew have been among the spectators in Bagshot this week and on Friday it was the turn of Alastair Cook. Should Eddie Jones’s team rack up a cricket score at Twickenham, their inspiration will not be hard to pinpoint.

Cook is also a keen rugby supporter who follows Northampton Saints and once persuaded England’s oval-ball captain, Dylan Hartley, to pop down and chat with some regulars in his local pub. The pair duly struck up a friendship and Jones, a fervent cricket fan, was equally delighted to welcome the prolific opening batsman into England’s Bagshot camp for a convivial lunch with his squad.

Related: England hand Ben Te’o first start against Italy as Dylan Hartley remains captain

Related: Italy’s Conor O’Shea: ‘We’re going into our Colosseum this weekend’

Related: Johnny Sexton’s endurance faces tough examination by robust France

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Feb 22

Eddie Jones and England hope ‘finishers’ repeat history against Italy | Robert Kitson

This year’s Six Nations schedule has distinct similarities to 2003 and some successful tinkering against the visitors would intensify them

England will be hoping Six Nations history is about to repeat itself. Fourteen years ago they kicked off the tournament with home success over France followed by a victory in Cardiff and then met Italy on the middle weekend. Then, as now, their penultimate fixture was a Calcutta Cup duel with Scotland at Twickenham prior to a juicy finale in Dublin.

Nor do the similarities end there. With one eye on winning the next World Cup, England’s then head coach, Clive Woodward, spotted an opportunity to make judicious changes to his previously settled XV against an Italy team who had just lost heavily at home to Ireland. With the captain Martin Johnson nursing a sore achilles tendon, a 23-year-old Jonny Wilkinson was promoted to lead the side out for the first time, Josh Lewsey wore 15 and Joe Worsley and Danny Grewcock started up front for Neil Back and Ben Kay respectively.

Related: England’s Joe Marler: stepping away from Tests in 2016 helped me on field

Related: Six Nations: Wales promise a ‘battle royal’ against injury-hit Scotland

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