“I must be the only man to own a coffee shop and not like coffee,” Chris laughs. It turns out the ex-England Rugby captain and current Harlequins player is full of surprises, one of those being that his engagement ring to now-wife Camilla got stolen in the Hatton Garden heist. But we’ll get to that later.
*Interviewed November 2018
Chuck a ball and rid of your frustration, they say. Playing sport as a form of stress relief is not unheard of; for a self-declared “stubborn pupil”, it was Rugby that acted as Chris Robshaw’s first funnel for fury.
He’s a cheery guy, really. Not that we expected anything less. His life has consisted of some pretty good turns: playing his favourite sport professionally, making a name not just in rugby but in the media world too (note his latest judging of the GQ grooming awards), eating as many stacked pancakes as he pleases in his coffee shop chain Josie’s and, recently, marrying his wife Camilla in the South of France where he shared a magazine cover with the Duchess of Sussex.
“At school, rugby allowed me to take my anger out and control it. It taught me to behave a lot better because I always had something there for me to take my frustration out on,” he admits.
It’s Robshaw’s lighthearted, persevering attitude that sets him apart from the crowd. Converting school-pitch rugby to an 82,000 capacity stadium game (Twickenham. Thanks, Google) can’t be an easy task, and is certainly a try-ing one.
It was merely a couple of years back that the news was flooded with debates of school rugby regulations. ‘Make them play against boys their own size, not age’, and ‘non-contact rugby is the way forward’ were the loudest arguments. School rugby accommodates some of Robshaw’s fondest childhood memories so, unsurprisingly, he is all for the contact sport being a contact sport but speaking as a true leader, his argument tackles the issue over the concern.
“It’s making sure they’re being coached in the right way,” Robshaw asserts. “When you’re small, you bounce but when you’re older, that’s not the case. It’s a matter of having extra practice with the correct techniques going all the way through childhood and adolescence. So rather than going directly from zero contact to suddenly tackling, they’ll be well prepared and safe.”
It goes without saying that Robshaw’s school focus was more on sports and less on academics. At 8-years old, Robshaw was diagnosed with dyslexia, to which he’s credited much of his success. ‘Dyslexia has helped make me the man I am today’, he told charity Made By Dyslexia before sharing his experiences at the World Dyslexia Summit in October (2018). “I was always more interested in sports. I wanted to spend more time playing and less time in the classroom. The pitch was my happy place,” he shares with us. Inspiring from many angles, it’s apparent that Robshaw is more than your average rugby hero.
“I loved my run as the [England] captain – it’s definitely one of the high points of my career.”
“Beating New Zealand. It was the only time I’d beaten them in 66 caps – it doesn’t happen that often.” He reminisces, “you don’t take those moments for granted because you don’t know when they might happen again… but we had a good party afterwards.”
Partying. That’s another thing that comes hand-in-hand with the good life, isn’t it? “When you’re on the pitch it’s very competitive” he corrects. “But then we play or train with so many different guys that as soon as the game is over we can catch up, get food and have a laugh. It’s a great social game.” We imagine rugby locker room life to be much like it deems to be at universities: running around naked and body bowling through dog sh*t (so they say). Robshaw laughs, “a lot of the stuff that actually happens in there is just classroom banter. It’s very much ‘you had to be there’ humour.”
We have no idea what he means.
What about Eddie Jones? We ask, intrigued to hear the inside verdicts of one of Rugby’s most loved coaches. “I’m a big fan of Eddie; he knows how to get the best out of players to ensure everybody functions as efficiently as possible. He treats people differently for their needs and has enough time for every single player.”
It’s fitting that The ‘Mighty’ Harlequins are captained by Robshaw since it was his first taste for professional rugby. Playing for their academy at 18 provided the gateway he needed to make those all-important career steps. Now, with their new coach Paul Gustard, the team have their eyes set on a top six finish and a place in Europe next season. “Paul Gustard has made a big difference to the guys – we’re moving in the right direction,” Robshaw tells us. “I’ve always loved the club – it’s brilliant. I’m happy here, but maybe later down the line I’ll reassess my options.”
Robshaw is currently working his way down the recovery road having injured his knee. “I’ve torn my meniscus which is basically the shock absorber in the knee. I’ve had to have some of that trimmed out in surgery” he tells us around the same time we suppress the urge to faint.
“I’m trying to build muscle back by cycling and using weights. Hopefully, I’ll get it back up to strength – it’s all moving in the right direction.” Apparently, the time spent off the game and in recovery makes the muscle stronger than it was before the tear. Despite this, exercise, Robshaw informs us, is only half the battle. “The mental cycle has a lot to do with recovery. When you’re injured, it’s about trying to stay busy”. The hardest part, he says, is having to watch his team play when he can’t.
We know you’re desperate to hear what happened here. Can you laugh about it now? we pry. They can, just about.
Robshaw and wife Camilla Kerslake designed their dream ring together. The jeweller had kept the ring in Hatton Gardens when along came “the old guys”. Fortunately, they were amongst the lucky ones. “It came back to us with the police – lucky since we had our hearts set on it.” We queried what Camilla thought of the ordeal. “Camilla did know about it… I had to propose to her with a smaller ring, though.”
Their engagement, however, went off without a hitch. “I’m no relationship or marriage guru but I planned my proposal the best I could and I’m pretty sure it went quite well.” Modest, perhaps? This ‘quite well’ proposal happened on a romantic Paris getaway whilst in a box at Palais Garnier, a fitting venue for classical singer Camilla. They tied the knot earlier this year (2018) at their dream venue in the South of France. Fun fact: their wedding, covered by Hello, featured on the magazine’s cover alongside a headline story on Meghan Markle. “It was a pretty surreal experience and it made it even more so being on the cover with her.”
Robshaw’s future is bright. Right now, he’s working on his recovery whilst dipping his toes into some new, and slightly out of character, ventures. Having recently judged the GQ Grooming Awards, he admits “I got a lot of products to try which is a real perk, but it’s definitely very different to the day job.” He’s broadening his horizons, he explains. “I think it’s important not to stay still. Often I’m sceptical about these things but I’m always glad I do them.” He resumes telling us how Rugby will always come first and, even though he now frequently attends parties, he’s always in bed by 10pm.
“I’m getting a little older and I don’t have as many years left in rugby as I used to. I feel it’s about time I started exploring the different avenues and routes that I could potentially pursue.”
We managed to squeeze out of Robshaw that, one day, he might consider writing a book of sorts. Right now, though, his focus is set on getting back on the pitch. “Nothing that exciting, I’m afraid,” he laughs. However, Chris Robshaw is full of surprises, so we’ll see.