If Chris Robshaw had the casting vote he would be part of England's squad touring Argentina this summer.
Barring a sharp last-minute U-turn by Stuart Lancaster, however, the Harlequins flanker will instead be missing from Wednesday's squad list as the management seek to ensure he does not burn out before the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Robshaw and Lancaster were still discussing the matter late on Tuesday afternoon, with the England captain reiterating his desire to tour having missed out on the British and Irish Lions squad. The national management and Conor O'Shea, his club director of rugby, however, are equally determined to ensure the 26-year-old has a break before he and England's leading players commence a two-year period of virtually non-stop rugby.
Although O'Shea is increasingly optimistic his captain will recover from an ankle strain in time to feature against Leicester in Saturday's Premiership semi-final at Welford Road, he fully expects Robshaw's name to be missing from Wednesday's squad. "I'm in the loop and I know Stuart is planning on leaving behind a number of players for whom he feels this is their last chance of a rest before 2015," he said.
"I know he and Stuart are still talking but Chris is the kind of person you have to pull off the pitch. He always wants to play and he is desperate to get out there this weekend. It's a semi-final and there is no tomorrow if we lose. He also wants to show people he's a pretty good player."
Watching England play without him will certainly be tough for Robshaw, who has been using a sandpit at Chelsea's training ground to accelerate his injury rehabilitation. "It's always an honour to play for your country, no matter where it is," he said. "But it is the boss's [Lancaster's] call and I will respect whatever he decides to do. He will do what he feels is right for myself going forward. Sometimes you can get caught up in playing and it's easier for other people to see the bigger picture."
He and O'Shea also insist that not touring will have no bearing on Robshaw's chances of an emergency call from the Lions as injury cover. "Whether you are in Argentina or at home you have to make sure you are on top of your fitness just in case," stressed Robshaw, admitting his Lions rejection came as a major blow. "Of course it is tough. I spoke to Graham Rowntree and he said I was close but that's not really a consolation is it? You have a little sulk but now we're into a semi-final. I came through today fine and it's now about waiting to see how the ankle reacts overnight."
O'Shea, either way, feels Robshaw should have been picked for the Lions. "I think he's been very hard done by … I can't think how anyone could have done more. He was absolutely magnificent in the Six Nations and could have had three man-of-the-match awards. Maybe he paid the penalty for being under the microscope in every game. Why do people not focus on the fact he outplayed the All Black back row last December? Richie McCaw's obviously a terrible player. I just said to him that selection is subjective."
With eight members of the senior elite player squad away with the Lions in Australia, Wednesday's squad will present opportunities to several uncapped players to show they have what it takes to force their way into Lancaster's World Cup plans. Among those hopeful of a call-up will be Joel Tomkins of Saracens, the Wasps' pair Elliot Daly and Christian Wade and the Sale prop Henry Thomas. The Saracens-bound Billy Vunipola should also be on the plane along with Gloucester's new signing Matt Kvesic.
The final few places will boil down to how many players Lancaster decides to rest. If Toby Flood stays at home, for instance, there will be a fly-half berth for George Ford, who is moving from Leicester to Bath this summer. It makes sense to give experience to one or two up-and-coming talents, with Lancaster due to name a rejigged senior EPS squad in July. Those staying behind will appreciate the rest but only if they retain a role in the squad when the new season starts.
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