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Watch out Robshaw, Michael Rhodes is ‘best blindside in England’ says Saracens coach

By Neale Harvey

Uncompromising flanker Michael Rhodes poses a huge threat to Chris Robshaw’s chances of making it to a third World Cup according to Saracens coach Alex Sanderson, who describes his all-action South African as the “best No.6 in the Premiership”.

England boss Eddie Jones is known to be a big admirer of Rhodes, 30, who qualifies to wear a Red Rose jersey on residential grounds this July and would leap at a belated chance of establishing a Test career after being overlooked by the Springboks.

Robshaw is England’s current go-to man on the blindside flank, but Rhodes is fit and firing again after recovering from shoulder surgery earlier this season, and Sanderson said: “In terms of the physical intent in his carries and collisions, Mikey is someone who puts the fear of God in opposition players and teams.

“He’s more than a handful going forward and it’s only when you lose someone like him that you realise how much you miss them. What Mikey does on the ball is eye-catching, but he can get even better defensively and make more tackles and hits.

“He’s got to be the best No.6 in the Premiership and he’s different to Robshaw, right. Robshaw’s a workhorse who’s very good around the ruck area and gets through a ridiculous amount of work, but Mikey has an athletic X-factor that sets him apart.”

Incumbent: Chris Robshaw has been a consistent fixture in England internationals since Stuart Lancaster named in captain in 2012 (photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Two-time Champions Cup winner Rhodes is ready to step up his bid for Test recognition later this year after overcoming the mental trauma of undergoing a collarbone recon- struction that required four operations.

The former Sharks, Lions and Stormers man told TRP: “It’s been a very demanding period mentally, much more so than physically. Every time you go back in for surgery it feels like a huge setback and you just start wondering when it will all end.

“They used a bit of my hip bone and a titanium plate to stabilise my collarbone, but then found I was allergic to titanium. So I had the metal taken out and my collarbone on one side is now two inches shorter, but everything’s holding together.

“It’s been a tough period and the body hurts in training, but I still really enjoy competing at weekends and it’s that physical side that drives me. Being with your mates and putting your body on the line is something I look forward to.”

Jones appreciates players with ‘edge’ and Rhodes’ warrior-like nature was demonstrated in recent man-of-the-match performances against Worcester and Wasps.

Glowing reference: Alex Sanderson is a big fan of Michael Rhodes (photo: Getty Images)

He explained: “I enjoy that physical confrontation and if things get a bit niggly I’m right in my element – not in a dirty sense but in being uncompromising and combative because that’s a big part of my game and I’ll put everything on the line.

“I’ve heard Eddie Jones quite likes that, so while playing for England is not something I thought about when I first came here from South Africa, it would be lovely if it could happen and I’ll certainly give it my best shot.”

As a younger player in South Africa, Rhodes had some redoubtable role models. “Juan Smith was a guy I really admired – combative and a great athlete – while as a very young boy I’d look up to guys like Gary Teichmann, a Springbok legend,” he said.

“New Zealand’s Jerry Collins was another player I really admired so you can see where my attitude towards the game comes from. There are things I can still improve on and I’m ambitious to take my game to another level.”

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