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Borthwick not immune from the sack but it’s time for positivity – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England talks to the media following a training session at Stade Ferdinand Petit on September 04, 2023 in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France. England will face Argentina in their first Rugby World Cup France 2023 match on September 9, 2023. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

I’m not buying that Steve Borthwick is immune from the sack regardless of the performance at this World Cup but this should be a time for optimism and England need to seize the opportunity to turn the tide of negativity.

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It’s absolutely fair to suggest change at the top might be needed if England crash out in the pool stages rather than starting the tournament with the idea that he’s going to remain in situ irrespective of how the team fares in France, as has been intimated.

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The reality is, of course, that it will all depend on the details of the five-year deal he signed after £1 million was spent by the RFU to buy him out of his Leicester contract and install him as head coach and whether specific clauses were inserted.

It’s already reasonable to question the lack of experience in the coaching group as a whole and if things were to go south, I think the addition of an experienced Rassie Erasmus-style figure would be warranted at the very least.

The fact this is even being discussed on the eve of England’s opening game of the tournament shows just how bad their form has been. The most defeats the national team has ever suffered in a calendar year is eight and they’ve already lost six in 2023.

England Borthwick <a href=
Rugby World Cup team Argentina” width=”1024″ height=”576″ /> (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

A couple of stodgy wins over Wales and a ground out victory against Italy are all Borthwick has to show for his efforts so far but he and his players will know that one win can change everything, especially when it’s in the first game of a World Cup.

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Borthwick was a player back in 2007 when England lost three of their four fixtures in the summer prior to the World Cup, on the back of losing to Wales and Ireland in the Six Nations, and there are some real parallels between that team and this one.

We all know how that turned out with England rallying to reach the final and, with a kind draw, there’s no reason they can’t make the semi-finals at least this time around and then who knows what might happen.

Momentum is huge in sport and they have none at all right now but a win over the Pumas and that can build quickly before the knockout stages, defeat and the pressure will hit epic levels for the Japan game.

Given that context and the weather conditions, I wouldn’t expect much free-flowing rugby in Marseille and it’ll be a cagey affair with whoever comes out on top in an attritional forward battle likely to prevail.

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Argentina are favourites, they’re ranked higher and beat England at Twickenham last November but England have more caps in their squad than any other team in the tournament and they need to draw on that experience and the memory of 2019.

South Africa v England
2019 World Cup final (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, George Ford, Jamie George, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Joe Marler have all played in a World Cup final and some of those big names have gone missing in recent times but now is the time to stand up and be counted.

The fact that May and Alex Mitchell start is a major talking point given they weren’t even named in the initial 33-man squad but I think you have to applaud Borthwick for reacting to the poor displays and not just sticking with the same formula.

Mitchell’s inclusion from the off could be key as he offers pace that the other scrum halves don’t and can play with an intensity that has the potential to make a major difference, if he’s allowed to play his normal game.

Add Tom Curry’s return to that and there are a couple of glimmers of hope. He might not have played since May because of an ankle injury but he’s a Test match animal and will give the team a lift in defence and attack.

The bench is going to play a massive role given the heat and England might just have the edge there. If it’s tight and players are tiring, there aren’t many better players to bring on and exploit gaps than Marcus Smith but I’d want to see him doing so from fly half not full back.

Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith of England looks on during a training session at Stade Ferdinand Petit on September 01, 2023 in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France. England will face Argentina in their first Rugby World Cup France 2023 match on September 9, 2023. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

There may not have been any actual evidence to inspire confidence thus far in the Borthwick era but he’s building from a low base after the back end of the Eddie Jones era saw players playing with fear and unable to express themselves.

It might seem like clutching at straws but the current crop of players are doing their best to portray a happy camp and the start of the biggest tournament of all might just provide the impetus for a sudden improvement.

Nobody wants to be reading headlines about the head coach’s future before the competition is even underway, it’s time for positivity and we might just look back on the Pumas in Marseille as the tipping point in England’s turnaround. I’m going for England by three.

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Comments

3 Comments
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Alex 286 days ago

Potentially scorching hot take here. I think both England & Australia are being underestimated, including by their own supporters.

I support England, and Boks are my pick to win it all in a repeat. But I think England & Aussie will out perform expectations.

R
Roy 287 days ago

I'm really not a fan of this England team, the way they are set up to play. But I think it's only fair that he gets 12 months after the WC to start to build the team in his own image... If we see progress then he can carry on, if not the new coach gets 3 years to work before the next WC.

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