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Beaten Borthwick claims 'great resolve' gives him hope for England

By Liam Heagney
Steve Borthwick looks on dejected with assistant Kevin Sinfield (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Doom and gloom was the expected narrative when Steve Borthwick came in to conduct his first post-game media briefing as England head coach, but the new man refused to play ball at Twickenham in the wake of a sobering 29-23 Guinness Six Nations loss.


The more he was invited to chew over the entrails of the defeat, the more he responded as the glass-half-full guy who will be striding back into English Rugby HQ in eight days’ time convinced his team will do much better in their round two outing.

There is every chance that will transpire. After all, it is little old Italy who are next up at the big rugby place in London and they have never managed a result in the fixture, no matter how out of sorts England have been.

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Referees clearly explain the new rugby laws for 2023
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It was only when Borthwick had his final say at the end of a 13-minute top-table conference he shared with skipper Owen Farrell that the veil really slipped and there was an admonishment for how standards had fallen under the dismissed Eddie Jones. As a former second row who went on to become England forwards coach between 2016 and 2020, he sure should know what a tight engine room should be like and he intimated he hadn’t seen it in recent years.

“It is clear to say right now that the England set-piece in recent times has not been strong,” he admitted, voicing criticism about what he had inherited from his old mentor who cleared his desk with a record of just five wins in a dozen 2022 matches.

“You always want to have a strong set-piece, a strong scrum and a strong maul and those are going to take time to build, but we are going to persevere with those. Those things don’t happen quickly. We have got to develop that. England hasn’t had a strong maul for a few years now. What we have got to make sure of is we get better so that we have different weapons in our game.”


That was the thing Borthwick had earlier tried to stress, that England did wield some other weapons in a match where they led 13-12 at the break and 20-12 early in the second half before their effort came a cropper – as was the case on too many occasions with Jones at the helm.

What would surely bug was how England dominated territory  (71 per cent), spending more than 16 minutes in the opposition half, yet their three-try effort was eclipsed by four-try Scotland, who only spent a mere five minutes in English territory. Try and get your head around that.

“I know it’s a challenge, I know it’s a big challenge,” accepted Borthwick about his mission to turn England back into winners. “Like you watched those games in the autumn. But what I have seen today, if the team in the autumn conceded a couple of scores early they didn’t come back from that.

“These guys did and they showed great resolve in that first half to get in the position they were in and they came out in the first part of that second half and were really strong. Unfortunately, we let the opposition back in and we shouldn’t do that and we will make sure we don’t do that going forward.”


Having had about 11 days to work with his inheritance, he wasn’t going to have a pop at his own. For instance, his buddy Kevin Sinfield got a free pass as the defence coach despite the concession of four tries. Patience please was his verdict. “We slipped off a number (of tackles). When you are trying to put in a new defensive system that takes time.

“We will make sure we keep working as hard as we can to improve that. You don’t want to be there but there are going to be mistakes as you try to build a team, trying to implement new systems. We will make sure we are better next week.

“We are clearly disappointed with the result. We said before the game we were playing against a Scotland team that has controlled this fixture in recent years and they were very good today. They didn’t get an awful lot of chances but the chances they got they took ruthlessly. For us, we need to make sure we limit those chances but also be able to shut them down.


“From our perspective, we saw some growth, particularly in the attacking side of the game. The team played like they had points in them, had try-scoring potential. The game was quicker but clearly, we were disappointed with the result.

“There were a couple of crucial turnovers, a couple of lineouts that hurt us and we gave them too much space on their kick return, particularly out of their own 22. They moved the ball and attacked very well from deep.

“We were hit with a couple of scores from out of nowhere really in that first half and I thought the team responded incredibly well. To go in at half-time in the position we were in it was immense credit to the players. 20 to 12 up, we need to control that game, we shouldn’t be letting that game go away from us and we did.”

He wasn’t going to be disillusioned by the setback, this fourth round one defeat for England in four straight Six Nations. Serial slow starters, indeed. “There is a lot of good luck in it and this is part of the growth of the team, you have to go through some pain.

“We don’t want to but there was certainly enough there on that pitch to say I could see some aspects working now and I could see some things we have to improve on. We got ourselves into that position and could have gone on and won that game. We didn’t.

“If I was sat here going there was nothing to pull from that game, couldn’t see how we could have won the game, it would be a different story. As I sit here I can see what we should have done, how we could have done things differently that would have allowed us to win the game.

“We want to be a really good team, that is the main message here. We want to be a successful team that wins Test matches, a lot of Test matches, and when you get to that level you don’t give teams the opportunities that we did. This for me is the first step.”

The first step towards winning at the second attempt. This sure was a tough Test head coach baptism for the glass-half-full guy.


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