Chris Robshaw Ahead Of San Diego’s Homecoming
Written by Joe Harvey | Photo by Griff Lacey
To say that Chris Robshaw knows a thing or two about rugby is putting things mildly. Signing for the San Diego Legion after 16 years spent with English Premiership side Harlequins, where the flanker won a league title, the European Champions Cup and an LV Cup.
Making 300 appearances for the club, Robshaw captained the side for numerous years and also captained England for four years. Making 66 appearances for his country, the 35-year-old led his nation at the 2015 Rugby World Cup on home soil.
His signing for the Legion was announced one year ago, the anticipation building for nearly eight months before making his debut in April against the Houston SaberCats.
Photo by Big Shots Snap Shots
Whilst that debut was hardly the ideal introduction to life in Major League Rugby, sustaining a dislocated shoulder, off the field Robshaw and his wife, Camilla Kerslake, have recently welcomed their first child into the world.
LIFE IN AMERICA
Robshaw is tending to his son over the phone, his tone hushed as he tries not to disturb the newborn more than he has to. Life as a new parent is scarcely easy and the run-in to Wilding’s arrival was anything but.
Already, Robshaw and his wife have had to call several places home, the team having relocated to Las Vegas to start the season, before making their way back to California in order to play home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Dignity Health Sports Park and Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center.
“They say one of the most stressful things in your life that you can do is move homes and we’ve done that a couple of times now,” Robshaw said. “There was definitely a stressful element to it when we were trying to get settled early on and then we were off to Vegas and then we were back from Vegas.
“Everyone was trying to do the best they could. Everyone wanted it to work, but there was a number of reasons that things didn’t progress for us and that did probably have an impact on our performance. But now, we are settled in San Diego and what a place to be.”
Having been forced to watch from the sidelines for several weeks, Robshaw has allowed himself to be completely submerged in an entirely new rugby culture. Coming from an environment that has been professional for over two decades and a country where rugby is often the first sport of players playing their trade professionally.
“What I have realized is that a lot for the players have that American Football background where if you run straight at them, they tackle you pretty hard, which is never particularly nice,” Robshaw said.
“I haven’t played as much as I would have liked to this year, but I have seen a fair amount. I think what they do well here is, they have their own rugby product, but they have put an American twist on it.
Photo by Griff Lacey
“They want to get the crowd going, they get revved up and they put their own spin on it. Even back in the UK, we can be stuck in our ways with our rugby mentality, and we can’t be seen to be breaking the core of the game and evolving.
“Here, there is the blueprint of what the game is, and a spin has been put on it and I think it is brilliant. It is about trying to attract those younger players earlier. We went to a high school game the other day and I couldn’t believe some of the hits and the skill level. There are people out there who want to play rugby, but it is not going to be a quick fix and it may take some time, but it is moving in the right direction.”
GOING INTO A CLASH WITH THE GILTINIS
Several days removed from a loss at Zions Bank Stadium, the home of the Utah Warriors, Robshaw started the game.He and his teammates were much happier at the break with a 14-10 lead, but an astonishing second half resurgence saw the Warriors finish the game as 45-41 victors.
As a result, Legion’s position in the West Conference has stayed the same, placed fourth in their conference. Currently 15 points from the LA Giltinis, who head up the West with a game in hand, and 10 points away from Utah in second, this weekend’s encounter with their California rivals has certainly got the Englishman’s pulse racing with plenty on the line.
“It really is make or break and if last weekend wasn’t that, this weekend certainly is,” Robshaw said. “I think with it being a California derby, there will be bragging rights between the two teams.
“I think in sport, derbies are always special. Whether they are played at club level, at international level, with all the animosity between the fans and the players, it makes for a great spectacle, and we are under no illusions, we have got some work to do.
“We are 10 points adrift with four games to go, we have got to do something pretty special and there really is no alternative if we want to get to that semi-final.”
Robshaw has yet to experience the Torero Stadium, San Diego’s home since 2018. The venue has seen the team play a Final in their second year, losing to the hands of Seattle late on. That was the last time the venue has seen its residents lose.
With several member of The Cohort making their way to Utah last weekend, the 35-year-old has had a taster of what the atmosphere will be like on Sunday afternoon. Having played for the team since its first season, each of Ryan Matyas, Nate Augspurger and Joe Pietersen know exactly what it will mean to the majority of players that have taken to the field over the years.
“It means a lot, because a lot of our fans are kids, kids that guys on the team have coached,” Augspurger said. “That’s one thing and the other thing is that a lot of our fans have been around for a few years now, so I recognize people every year.
“There are some really good people filling those seats, some quality people who love their rugby, support us through thick and thin and they totally believe we can win in every game that we play.”
Whilst Augspurger will be watching from the stands this weekend, the USA international is still recovering from a broken ankle. Matyas too is excited to see supporters return to the stadium.
“Playing back at Torero is going to be a very, very special event,” Matyas said. “Our last game last season was against New York there and being a year and a few months out from that, to be able to come back home again is super exciting.
“With all the time spent on the road this season, being able to get back into our home stadium, there is nothing quite like being able to play at your home stadium. I am really excited for all of the new guys this year who haven’t played there yet, who get to play there for the first time.
“I really enjoy playing at the Torero. It is the best stadium.”
Having joined San Diego midway through the 2018 season, Joe Pietersen is one of the team’s most important players and now in the midst of a fourth campaign with the team and believes that the return home will be a major influence on the performance this weekend.
“With Torero being our home, and after the pressure from Covid and difficulties around that, the joy of being home will definitely be a big motivator for the team,” Pietersen said.
“Also, being able to share it with the new guys who came in this year, the place has a vibe and one of the best pitches in the MLR. Exciting to be back.”
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