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How Steve Borthwick inspired England's 'night and day' mindset shift

By Josh Raisey
GIRONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 25: Steve Borthwick, Head coach of England, directs his players during a training session at Camiral Golf & Wellness on January 25, 2024 in Girona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

England’s performances in the first half and the second half of the Guinness Six Nations this year were so radically different that there were essentially seven teams in the tournament.

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It is not hard to differentiate between the two England teams either. The first three matches against Italy, Wales and Scotland (who all finished below England in the table) can succinctly be labelled under ‘bad’, while the last two matches against eventual winners Ireland and second-place France can be labelled ‘good’.

The lowest point for England probably came in the second half against Scotland in round three, where, after a promising start to the match, they gound to a halt.

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Northampton Saints’ 21-year-old fly-half Fin Smith was given the thankless task at Murrayfield of trying to revive an English attack in the final quarter that was already stone cold. It was not a good day for England, but it did serve as a turning point for the team.

Joining The Rugby Pod this week, Smith discussed what went on behind the scenes in the aftermath of the Calcutta Cup loss and how it revolutionised England’s attitude in the build-up to a clash with the then-Grand Slam chasing Ireland.

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In a campaign where head coach Steve Borthwick’s defence-centric training methods had been questioned by retired England players who had previously been in his camps, Smith explained how he changed the focus entirely after the Scotland defeat.

This shift immediately bore fruit against Ireland at Twickenham, as England not only went on to win, but outscored Andy Farrell’s side in terms of tries, as they did the week later against France.

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“To be fair, it was Steve-led,” Smith said.

“I think it was after the Scotland game- we’d been driving a lot of the messages around our kick game and our defence and stuff and I think we’d attacked really poorly in that game.

“But I think after that Steve stood up and said ‘look, let’s just have a real big focus on our attack these next couple of weeks.’

“He said we’re one of the best defensive sides in the world, we’ve got a great kicking game, if we can just nail home this attack, we’re going to be a really tough team to beat.

“Those two weeks we had before Ireland were 90 per cent just talking about our attack, speed of ball, all of these things.

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“That felt like a real turning point where a lot of the leaders in the team took the pressure off us a lot and there was a real licence to see space and play quickly and really go and try and beat teams with our attack.

“The shift in mindset between Scotland and Ireland, there was a real night and day change. I thought we were playing some brilliant rugby those last two weeks against Ireland and France and set us in really good stead for what’s to come in the summer.”

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Turlough 75 days ago

England had to bed in their new defensive system while challenging for the 6N.
The schedule allowed them to try and focus on defense for first 3 matches and then target Ireland (the pre tournament target match). A win in France would be a bonus.

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Tim 5 hours ago
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