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How the Leicester dressing room reacted to Steve Borthwick sacrificing Lions coaching role

By Liam Heagney

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It was April 13 when Warren Gatland unveiled the identity of his four assistants for the upcoming Lions tour to South Africa and the name of Steve Borthwick was missing, the Leicester coach deciding he couldn’t afford to be away from his Gallagher Premiership club during their pre-season for the 2021/22 campaign.

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Ex-England assistant Borthwick joined up with the Tigers on July 1 last year having finished up a long stint in the Test scene under Eddie Jones that has started in Japan before they switch to the English following the 2015 World Cup. 

Handed the huge task of rejuvenating the fallen giant of Leicester, Borthwick encountered teething difficulties when the suspended 2019/20 campaign was played to a conclusion. Leicester lost seven of their nine Premiership games and were knocked out of the Challenge Cup at the semi-final stage.   

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England pair Shaunagh Brown and Dan Norton guest on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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England pair Shaunagh Brown and Dan Norton guest on the latest RugbyPass Offload

Tigers have shown improvement this season, winning eight of their 17 games in the league so far and again working their way back into the last four of the second-tier European competition. It left Borthwick primed to be called up to help coach the 2021 Lions in South Africa, reprising the role he had for the 2017 tour to New Zealand. 

However, rather than entertain Gatland, Borthwick rebuffed the Lions offer to instead remain fully focused on his task of turning around the fortunes of Leicester, a sacrifice that has been very well received inside the Tigers dressing room. 

“It shows the character of who he is,” reckoned veteran winger Nemani Nadolo, who joined the English club from Montpellier at the same time that Borthwick arrived in the door at Oval Park. “He has asked us to buy into this journey. That is the ultimate honour over here to represent the Lions, he could have gone but he set that standard and we are following it so for him it was a no-brainer to hang around and see us do well. 

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“That just shows who he is as a person and it makes you want to play for someone like that. It says a lot about him and makes us want to play more for a coach. For me, there are not too many coaches who would do that.”

Now aged 33 and with a contract extension inked for next season, Nadolo is enjoying his role as an elder statesman in the Leicester set-up. “I have never been in this situation before, being in an environment where you sort of are the older guy now and you are not only going about your business but you are helping the young guys come through. 

“The great thing about these Leicester Tigers is they have got some young backs coming through and to be part of their progress is something that I’m really excited about. To have a hand in this is great for me and my way of giving back I guess.  

“It’s just things in the meetings, we get together or have coffees of stuff, they will ask questions or if there is something in the game that we see could be done well we bounce ideas off each other. They have helped me a lot in my game as well as trying to keep up with these guys. Speaking on Fred (Steward), he is a talent. He is a bloke that wants to learn which is really good. The young guys here I couldn’t fault them, they are like sponges and want to learn.”

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How the Leicester dressing room reacted to Steve Borthwick sacrificing Lions coaching role

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