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Borthwick come out swinging for England's critics after comeback win

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick has come out swinging at his England team’s critics after their dramatic comeback victory versus Samoa in Lille on Saturday. The English, who had already qualified for an October 15 quarter-final in Marseille with a game to spare, were facing a shock defeat after they surrendered an early 8-0 lead.


They fell 8-14 behind on 29 minutes to Nigel Ah-Wong’s second converted try and it wasn’t until Samoa were a yellow-carded man down that sub Danny Care struck for the 73rd-minute converted try that nosed a very scrappy England 18-17 ahead.

Even then, there was still heart-stopping drama to endure as a last-gasp tackle from Care just metres from the line with 75 seconds remaining was needed to safeguard their slender one-point lead before the final whistle eventually confirmed they move forward to the knockout stages with four successive group wins.

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That run of results has been in sharp contrast to their fortunes leading into their tournament where two heavy defeats to round off the Guinness Six Nations were followed by three more losses in their four-game Summer Nations Series.

That left England travelling to France 2023 with their preparations written off as the worst of any English team ever going to the finals and there were even predictions that they would not qualify from a pool that contained Argentina, Japan and Chile along with Samoa.


Ball Carries
Post Contact Metres
Line Breaks

England’s performance against the Samoans was gravely error-strewn, with their defence struggling to handle the increasingly slick ball movement of their opponents.

There were also some issues with their lineout, the revived 10/12/13 combination from the 2019 World Cup of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi failed to inspire, while Farrell even suffered the gaffe of getting timed out on the shot clock with a 64th-minute penalty kick with his team trailing 11-17 and in need a lifeline.


Borthwick described the struggle as ideal preparation for next weekend’s quarter-final, most probably versus Fiji, and he used his post-match media briefing to take a pop at the critics that had written off England’s World Cup chances.

“Today was a great test for us,” he insisted. “A lot has been said about his England team before being in tough circumstance. People have written things and said things about when the team is in tough circumstances, what do you want to do?

“Now the team has been in tough circumstance. We didn’t want to be there, we didn’t want to play the way that got us into that tough circumstance, but this team found a way out of it. What you are seeing now is a team that finds a way through games, navigates the way through situations which has been an often criticised element of this team.

“I see a team that finds a way, I see a team that never stops. Now, have we got to be better? Yes, without question we want to be better, we will learn from it and we will be a better team next week.


“We are trying to expedite things very fast here. We have had the coaching team together for (only) this World Cup period, we have combinations we want to play and work together. For obvious reasons, there have been some combinations that haven’t necessarily been able to run very much recently.

“So what we are trying to do when I talk about learning, we are working every minute to learn from every minute of games and every minute of training because that is what we need to do and whilst the performance was not what we wanted today, you have seen an England team that has worked to improve consistently.


“There have been many times these players have been written off quite badly, there were many times. I said all the way through the summer the team would be ready for September 9 (versus Argentina) and then it has continued to build.

“Ultimately there were many people that wrote that this team would not get out of the group stages and the team has progressed… I said it before, the character of these men I just think is outstanding. They follow this man next to me [Farrell], who is just an example. Big players perform on the big stages and I know they are all looking forward to next Sunday in Marseille.”

Borthwick, who added that a replacement still had not been confirmed for the injured Jack Willis after he left the squad in midweek, suggested that midfielder Tuilagi was the only player to pick up an unspecified knock against Samoa, a team he was much impressed by.

“Immense credit to Samoa. I thought they played brilliantly. They talked about it being their World Cup final and that is exactly how they played. They really tested us, forced us into a lot of errors. It was a very scrappy performance for long periods by us in a really tough test.

“As we look towards next week, that is what would I have wanted today, a really tough test and that is exactly what we go. Whilst there were lots of things that weren’t at the required standard, there were lots of mistakes and scrappiness and for a period there were too many penalties conceded, but what then happened was players got hold of it on the pitch and found a way to get a result at the end of the day.”



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