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Borthwick: The most expensive mistake in rugby history

By Neil Fissler
Steve Borthwick, the England head coach looks on in the warm up prior to the Summer International match between England and Fiji at Twickenham Stadium on August 26, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Appointing Steve Borthwick, England’s coach, will become the most expensive mistake in rugby history because he isn’t up to the job and is out of his depth.

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The decision to sack Eddie Jones under a year out from the World Cup was a risky strategy, but ultimately, it was correct. Something was needed to try and halt the downward slide.

Jones was just marking time after it was made clear that he would leave when his contract ended and was running out of ideas on how to turn things around with his abrasive management style.

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Paying him off cost them between £700,000 and £1 million. Not putting him on gardening leave and leaving him free to walk into another job was a master stroke of mismanagement.

The RFU paid Leicester Tigers, who had them over a barrel, an estimated £1million for Borthwick, who, as a loyal lieutenant of Jones, and his right-hand man Kevin Sinfield.

Borthwick was nailed on for the job long before Freddie Burns’ dramatic drop goal against Saracens ended the Tigers’ nine-year wait for the Premiership trophy in June 2022.

The RFU gave him a five-year contract worth an eye-watering £700,000 a season now. Any savvy negotiator would have a break clause to limit potential damage.

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So admitting it was the wrong appointment will be another expensive mistake in a country that has seen three Premiership teams go to the wall in under a year.

But they can’t afford not to do anything about it. Last week, Borthwick talked of ‘progress’, but it was a comment that was nothing short of laughable and is one of the silliest quotes of the year.

England’s World Cup preparation is a shambles. They have lost five of their last six test matches, conceding 23 tries and scoring just six themselves.

Forget the misguided PR guff –  that isn’t progress. It’s a rudderless ship that can do nothing to stop itself from crashing onto the rocks.

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And they are playing as someone so eloquently put it on X last night “with the intensity of a Borthwick interview”. A line so good it deserves to be stolen.

Borthwick <a href=
England Fiji verdict” width=”1920″ height=”1080″ /> (Photo by Ian Kington/AFP via Getty Images)

He has had eight months to get things moving in the right direction, and like with Jones. No expense is spared in terms of resources and coaches despite their pleading poverty.

The first World Cup preparation camp was in June, so what has everyone been doing this summer? There is no evidence that they have been working on anything meaningful.

In many ways, it perfectly mirrors England’s 2007 World Cup campaign when the players didn’t know the game plan and didn’t know what was being asked of them.

And it needed the players after their 36-0 drubbing against South Africa to sort themselves out and get their campaign back on track, which ultimately led to a World Cup Final defeat to the

That was a squad with leaders like Lawrence Dallaglio, Lewis Moody, Phil Vickery and Simon Shaw, to name a few, who could coerce Colonel Sanders into making them a Big Mac.

But I get the feeling this squad don’t have the same minerals as the 2007 lot to sort it out for themselves, and clearly, we have seen nothing from the coaching staff to say that they can.

Borthwick lacks the charisma and gave me the impression in his stumbling post-match interview after yesterday’s defeat over Fiji he is a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car about to squash it.

Let’s not take anything away from Fiji, who saw their opponents were on the ropes and could deliver the knockout blow with clinical precision. They fully deserved their historic win.

And maybe it will focus minds worldwide that the Island Nations fully deserve yearly home and away fixtures against the so-called big guns, but that’s a whole different argument.

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England kick off their World Cup campaign in two weeks against Argentina in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome, and, make no mistake, a swift exit from the group stages is very much on the cards.

England’s players and coaches enjoy the five-star luxury that their leafy Surrey training base need what is commonly known as a short sharp shock.

A sporting version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Mikado, where the Emperor of Japan decided Titipu was behind on its quota of executions and that heads must roll.

Points Flow Chart

Fiji win +8
Time in lead
37
Mins in lead
38
46%
% Of Game In Lead
48%
61%
Possession Last 10 min
39%
0
Points Last 10 min
7

Three government officials, Pooh-Bah, Ko-Ko and Posh-Tush, were sent in to sort out the mess, and the best man in rugby to do that would be one Steven Diamond, rugby’s very own Red Adair.

If you want quick results over a short space of time, there is nobody better in the game to get them, but it would be a very radical approach to find a solution to the problem.

Can England afford not to roll the dice? A decent World Cup campaign would be just the shot in the arm that rugby in this country badly needs during this time of crisis.

Borthwick’s buzzword this summer has been confident. Confident to be competitive. Confident to cope with the suspension of skipper Owen Farrell.

Confident in Billy Vunipola’s fitness and confident in the ability of everybody around the England team and that England will progress.

But let me share something with you, Steve, my old China. Most England fans aren’t confident in your confidence and would love to see the back of you ASAP.

I am not knocking Borthwick and England for the sake of it. I am desperate for them to do well. Look at the feel-good factor that surrounded football’s Lionesses recently.

It brought people together and new fans into the sport. Success at any World Cup shown on terrestrial television does that, but I just can’t see it happening.

Just as I can’t see anyone saying enough is enough, the Borthwick experiment has failed. Let’s pick up the phone to Diamond as a short-term fix while we find a long-term solution.

And what is the long-term solution? Someone who has been criminally overlooked at least twice before Shaun Edwards as head coach with someone such as Rob Baxter in a director of rugby role.

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The above article is the opinion of the writer and not that of World Rugby.

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Comments

27 Comments
M
Michael 320 days ago

Extremely brutal article, but can't disagree with any of it unfortunately. Fear for England in world cup, everyone please remember Steve Borthwick is a decent bloke who is trying his best

S
Steve 324 days ago

"The decision to sack Eddie Jones under a year out from the World Cup was a risky strategy, but ultimately, it was correct. Something was needed to try and halt the downward slide." I disagree, we should have stuck with Eddie and let Borthwick transition in this world cup which I always thought was the plan.

Parachuting someone in 2 weeks out is not going to make a difference let alone someone who divides opinion like Diamond does, some players love him but others don't. I think people are forgetting Borthwick was put in place for the next two world cups with this one being essentially a free hit out for him. We can only hope he uses this world cup as a learning experience.
The worry is that they've had 8 weeks together and there seems to be no cohesion in attack or defense, we can only hope they are holding everything back for the world cup

G
G 324 days ago

You could have taken Foster from our hands...

W
William 325 days ago

O

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Tris 325 days ago

This is stupid. Sacking Jones so close to world cup was a massive gamble, which looks like it is turning to crap. But to want Steve Diamond to step in now is just idiotic.

Lets just start with the fact this isnt a one man job. Are you swapping Steves but everybody else stays the same. What a happy coaching ticket you are going to create? Or who else do you get in? Nobody so...

Your defence coach is the same guy but probably feels undermined. Which is going to make your defence better?

A week cant change a whole rugby team.

Nevermind Steve Diamond has never lite the premiership alight let alone touched a tier 1 National team.

Stupid idea!

M
MattJH 325 days ago

The writer is panicking. The English coaching team in place right now is the one that will coach at the World Cup, that is certain.
Rather than doing an autopsy now, focus on what actual tactics and skills they are using/not using and what they need to get right.
Analysis is more useful than emotion.
But it depends what you’re trying to achieve; create a competitive side that engages the rugby public or get an angry mob clicking on articles with pitch forks.

f
finn 325 days ago

"The decision to sack Eddie Jones under a year out from the World Cup was a risky strategy, but ultimately, it was correct. Something was needed to try and halt the downward slide."

no

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Turlough 1 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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