For Arsenal fan Chris Robshaw, March promises much.
After leading England's rugby side to Six Nations victories over Scotland, Ireland and France, he now stands just 160 minutes away from skippering his country to what would be a first Grand Slam in a decade.
The scenario is simple enough.
If England beat Italy at Twickenham on Sunday and follow that up with victory against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on March 16, Robshaw will become the first England captain to lead the country to a Grand Slam since Martin Johnson back in 2003.
A boyhood Gunners fan, Robshaw is familiar with what it takes to be unbeatable. He has fond memories of the Club’s record-breaking ‘Invincibles’ squad that went the whole of the 2003/04 Premier League season without losing.
And at the start of what could be a landmark month in his career, Robshaw spoke to Arsenal.com about Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four, the benefits of youth in team sport, and whether he’ll be able to hot-foot it to the Liberty Stadium on the day England travel to the Millennium Stadium.
Chris, I’m sure you’ll remember the 'Invincibles' of 2003/04. How hard is it for a sports team to maintain consistency over such a prolonged spell?
It was massive. To win a Premier League title in itself is hard enough, but to go a whole season unbeaten is pretty special. It was a really unique achievement. It was great to watch as a fan. They wouldn’t have thought about what was going to happen in a month or two months' time. They will have focused on the here and now and what was going to happen that weekend and made sure they were fully focused for their next game. If you look too far ahead, there’s a danger that you can forget what is actually important, which is the next game.
England have assembled a relatively young squad in this year’s Six Nations. Similarly, Arsene Wenger has always looked to integrate youth into his sides and recently signed Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson to long-term deals. How important is it to have that young core in a team?
It’s massively important. It brings a lot of vibrancy and energy to a squad. I remember a couple of years ago at Harlequins, we were young and tried a lot of things. We probably made a lot of mistakes but we’ve learnt from that and have moved forward a lot. It’s that kind of learning on the job that helps. I think you learn from your mistakes more than the other way around.
You became England captain at a relatively young age. Pundits are touting Jack Wilshere as a future national team skipper. Do you think that he would be suited to the role?
"I remember the first game I went to... It was against Liverpool and was a 0-0 draw. It was the first time John Barnes wore white boots and we all thought he was wearing trainers"
From an outsider’s point of view, I think he’d be a very strong candidate. He’s a player that always goes out there. The biggest thing about him is that he’s a consistent performer. He always plays well and has a big influence on the team. I think that’s what you want from your captain. People often speak about captains needing to talk a lot and of course, everyone has their own styles. Wilshere just seems to lead by example every time and really fights for the cause. That’s what you want in a captain.
Was there one particular factor that you think has helped turn you from a good Premiership player into the England captain?
Just a lot of hard work really. I’ve been coached by some great players and great coaches who have given me a lot of advice. I’m surrounded by good players as well which always helps. They take some of the workload off you and just allow you to play your natural game.
You grew up during perhaps Arsenal’s most successful ever era. What games in particular that stand in your memory?
I remember the first game I went to. I only went to Highbury once as a kid. I remember how excited I was. When you look back, you always remember the likes of Ian Wright - the exciting characters the team had. It was against Liverpool and was a 0-0 draw. It was the first time John Barnes wore white boots and we all thought he was wearing trainers. Highbury was a really exciting place to watch football at. The stadium was so iconic and to witness a game there was special.
What’s the best game you’ve ever been to?
I was lucky enough to go to the Barcelona game at the Emirates two years ago, so it’s probably that. The atmosphere that night was fantastic. Barcelona are such a fantastic team but Arsenal showed real spirit to bounce back from a goal down and win. It was a great evening
Do you think Arsenal will finish in the top four?
Hopefully they can sneak in. I’m sure there’s a lot of faith in the squad. There’s always 60,000 people cheering them on and I’m sure that the fans’ great support really helps, so I’ve got no doubt that they’ll creep in.
Do you get the chance to come to the Emirates much? I know you were at the Man City game recently.
I try and come every now and then. It’s more the midweek games I can get down to now, because we play at the weekend so it always collides. I try and get down a couple of times a season. It’s tough to balance it with rugby at the moment.
Speaking of rugby, I guess things couldn’t be better right now. You’re unbeaten in the Six Nations, you’ve been touted as a potential Lions captain, and your club team, Harlequins, are performing well in the Aviva Premiership. You must be really pleased with how things are going.
"We’ve still got two massive games ahead of us and all the attention is on Italy and hopefully trying to get that performance and result right"
All our attention is on England at the moment. It’s great that Harlequins are keeping their momentum. To have a home quarter-final in a European competition is massive. They don’t come around that often in rugby, especially to host them. We’re really looking forward to it. As for England, the squad is in a good place at the moment. We’ve still got two massive games ahead of us and all the attention is on Italy and hopefully trying to get that performance and result right.
You’re just two games away from securing the Grand Slam. How excited are you about potentially becoming the first man since Martin Johnson to lead England through a Six Nations campaign unbeaten?
Everything is very exciting but we still have two huge challenges. We’re not thinking about Cardiff or what happens down there. You have to be careful not to lose your control, talking about things and getting too far ahead of yourself. You lose your full concentration and with international rugby, as soon as you slip off 10 per cent, someone can take that chance. You look at the first game of this Six Nations when Italy hosted France and the upset they created. When we went over there last year, we just escaped with a win.
The Six Nations only runs over a six-week period. Is it difficult to switch off before games?
It’s like anything, the more experience you get, the more comfortable it is to control things and switch off at certain times. You learn what works well for you and what doesn’t work well, be that going away for a couple of days or just chilling out at home. All the games are so intense and physical. There’s a bit of time in between games. The body and the mind needs that rest. I think mentally as well, you need to be able to switch off and have a break from it every now and then. You’ve got to make sure that you’re surrounded by good friends, family and loved ones who can give you that break and that balance as well.
Of course, Arsenal are away at Swansea on the day of that potential Six Nations decider in Cardiff on March 16. Is there any chance you’ll be at both games?
Unfortunately not! I’ll probably be quite busy. If it’s an early kick-off, you might be able to see some of it if it’s on Sky or something. I don’t know if it would go down well if I disappeared!
And finally, you recently signed up as an ambassador for Lucozade Sport – why did you choose to work with Lucozade?
It's a great brand and a worldwide brand. I think in their field, they're probably the biggest around. They're very exciting and they've got some great ideas. My favourite flavour is orange - I'm not really a raspberry or cherry man!
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