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Borthwick sidesteps Smith, blames other factors for record defeat

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England boss Steve Borthwick has refused to blame his bold selection of Marcus Smith to start at No10 and drop skipper Owen Farrell to the bench for Saturday’s embarrassing 53-10 Guinness Six Nations loss to France. So dreadfully blunt were the English that numerous fans exited their seats rather than watch the end of the seven-tries-to-one rout in which the major talking point in the build-up was the head coach’s decision to axe Farrell and promote Smith from the bench.


Borthwick claimed on Thursday after that dramatic selection alteration was confirmed: “I believe this is the right team with all the different considerations I put into it and all the different factors against a very good French team.”

Some 50 hours later, though, he was singing a very different tune after the number of bum notes that were orchestrated by his out-of-sorts No10, who offered little or nothing by way of creativity. Borthwick, however, sidestepped the impact of that massive selection call on his England team, insisting that the match was instead lost in so many other sectors.

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“At this stage, that wasn’t the main bearing on the game,” said the rookie Test-level head coach whose record in charge now reads two wins and two defeats, the most recent loss the sort of humiliation that would cost a Premier League football manager his job no matter how few weeks he was in that role.

“The main bearer on the game was around that contact area where you saw almost from the first couple of scores in the first couple of breaks where France were able to dominate the tackle area and offload. While we understood that was a major threat, off the back of that with (Gregory) Alldritt carrying and offloading and (Antoine) Dupont playing off that quick ball, we weren’t able to stop it.”


If the dismissed Edie Jones was still in charge of England, his post-match media briefing would have witnessed the use of some colourfully diversionary words to lessen the damaging blow. Look at how he claimed after the November hammering by South Africa that England were somehow “going in the right direction” and “not far away” despite that heavy loss.


Borthwick hadn’t that type of spin in his post-England game vocabulary. Plain talking was his MO and it left you wondering if he genuinely does possess the sort of inspiration necessary to lead England out of this damaging period and on to better things at the World Cup in six months’ time.

“We are incredibly disappointed with the performance. Immense credit to the French team. Their power and pace and class showed and that showed where the gap is. I said before the game it was a formidable challenge and it turned out (that way). They played exceptionally well, we played poorly and we have got to learn from it and be better.

“The key is we know where we are… we go from playing the second-best team in the world who showed just how much better they are than we currently are, and then next week we play Ireland who are the best team in the world. I said we would have a good understanding of where we are at a team at the end of this championship, and you can see how much work we have got to do.

“When you lose the collision that badly in defence and give the opposition opportunity, quick ball, offloads, and you lose it in attack where you are not able to generate quick ball and it turns into turnovers at the breakdown, especially in conditions like that, then it is hard to get a foothold in the game and that was exactly the case today.”


French power was the lethal killer. “You saw their power. While we had plans in place to play in a certain way to mitigate against that power advantage that they had, we didn’t execute well enough and made errors, we weren’t able to execute those plans.

“And they were so good that they stopped us doing what we wanted to do, so credit to them for that. What we have got to do is go away and make sure that we understand what went wrong and how we make sure we are better in that challenge going forward.

“No one is under any illusions of what we have got to do. We have been pretty upfront with that throughout and today just shows exactly the stark reality of what that is about. While we wanted to understand exactly how the development of this team has gone and where we are in comparison to the best teams in the world, we found against the second-best team in the world we fell considerably short. That is the reality. My job is to make sure we can learn faster, improve faster than any other team.”

That will be difficult to do when the grim reality is that England under Borthwick are getting nowhere in the quicksand inherited from the Jones era.


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