Chris Robshaw is a one-off according to Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea, as he prepares to leave the club he has called home for six years.
The Irishman will take over the Italian national side after tonight’s European Challenge Cup final against Montpellier, but before leaving west London he singled out the former Harlequins and England captain for special praise.
Robshaw was named club captain in 2010 and the following year led O’Shea’s side to Challenge Cup victory before lifting the Aviva Premiership Rugby trophy in 2012.
The one-club man has 223 appearances for Harlequins, scoring nearly a century of points, and O’Shea could not speak highly enough about the versatile back-rower.
“Chris is unequivocally the most special individual I have come across,” he said.
“The way he conducts himself, he is not Winston Churchill but he never tried to be, he never wanted to be, he is not Martin Johnson either, he just wanted to be him.
“Because he doesn’t look for big headlines he gets them through his performances.
“Not much praise is heaped upon him and I think turning the World Cup into what he did in the Six Nations finally made people realise how special he is.
“For me he is a role model. You get people who are egotistical, looking for the headlines, looking to court publicity, but he is just a bloke who does everything for his team.
“As a role model to young sports people, of any sport growing up, he’s the person I’d hold up.”
O’Shea said a number of Harlequins are following in Robshaw’s footsteps, and the Irishman thinks the flanker’s influence will stand the club in good stead for years to come.
In contrast to Robshaw, O’Shea highlighted prop Joe Marler – who returns for Friday’s final following a two-week ban picked up in the semi-final win over Grenoble – as a player with a sparkling future in the game.
“You don’t want 15 Chris Robshaws, the world would be a very boring place – if a perfect one – with no issues to deal with,” added O’Shea.
“Joe’s had a pretty tough couple of weeks but I look at him as a 25-year-old loose-head prop who could become anything over the next couple of years.
“His sheer physical presence on the pitch for us; Joe Marler to me is the best loose-head prop in European rugby.
“He is different. But, he is very, very bright. He has been an interesting challenge.
“He is very articulate when he wants to be and he is followed massively by people within a group, but he has other areas that he has to work on.”
In O’Shea’s first full season in charge of Harlequins they finished seventh in the Premiership but qualified for the Champions Cup by winning the Challenge Cup.
Six years on the former London Irish stalwart is hoping to sign off in the same vein, and in the process win a record fourth Challenge Cup for Harlequins.
The trophy would be a fourth for O’Shea at the club after the 2011 Challenge Cup victory, the 2012 Premiership and the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2013.
O’Shea said: “It will mean everything for the club, everything for the players. I felt sorry for them on Saturday because I know how much they care, how much they want.
“You're judged on trophies, you're judged on medals, and four trophies in six years would be lovely.
“I’ve had six years here and we’ve achieved hopefully a lot. We’ve changed as a club, we’ve got some massive personalities and players within the English game who’ve contributed.
“I think we’ve done it the right way, we could never be questioned in what we’ve done and I’ve loved every minute of it.
“I’ve no doubt on Friday in that dressing that I’ll be emotional, no matter what. But I’ll be incredibly proud, looking at some of the growth and development, then I’ll move onto the next challenge and get stuck into that in the same way.”
If you want to be at the world's biggest club rugby final, this year's Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is on 28 May at Twickenham, tickets are available from premiershiprugby.com/final