Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

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

By Liam Heagney
England Steve Borthwick 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.

Video Spacer

Referees clearly explain the new rugby laws for 2023

Video Spacer

Referees clearly explain the new rugby laws for 2023

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.


Join free



Trending on RugbyPass


Be the first to comment...

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

Shaylen 4 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

36 Go to comments
Jon 10 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

36 Go to comments
FEATURE Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma