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Borthwick's mythical masterplan? I'm tired of waiting – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
England Rugby coach Steve Borthwick speaks to the forwards during the warm up prior to the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick insists England have a plan but there’s no smoke without fire when it comes to rumours of unrest in camp and he desperately needs his players to show us what it is now.

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No back is going to be happy with touching the ball just once in a training session, if those reports are true, and it does look like England’s attack has gone backwards over the course of the opening three games of the tournament so it needs to start clicking into gear.

There’s no tougher test than coming up against an Irish defence that has conceded just 13 tries in the last 13 Six Nations games but nobody is expecting an England victory so maybe it’s the perfect time to surprise everyone and let’s face it, they’re going to need to score points aplenty if they are to win.

There’s a lot of talk about how you stop the green machine and, of course, you have to respect how good they are and tweak your game plan accordingly but the way to beat them is to focus on your own attack and put them under pressure.

Ireland have won 23 of their last 25 Tests and the two defeats to the All Blacks were a couple of very rare occasions where they conceded three or more tries. It sounds like an obvious point but elements of England’s selection show they’re focusing more on the opposition than themselves.

Chessum England Rugby World Cup
(Photo by Sylvain Thomas/AFP via Getty Images)

The Irish lineout is purring at the moment under Paul O’Connell and that’s why Ollie Chessum has been picked in the back row but I don’t like it as it’s all about the set piece and thwarting Ireland rather than posing them problems.

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I just think that’s the wrong mindset and he’s also never started a Test in that position before and has only played one game for Leicester there this season.

George Martin should make a big difference with his physicality, particularly going up against Joe McCarthy, but I’d rather England had picked another ball carrier in the back row who would worry Ireland like Chandler Cunningham-South.

It’s great to see Immanuel Feyi-Waboso getting his first Test start but it’s all very well Borthwick telling him to ignite the attack, find the ball and do a James Lowe but England need to find ways to get the ball to him in space.

He has impressed in cameos off the bench but he’s been on the field for a total of 21 minutes across the opening few games and was playing for Taunton Titans in National One less than 12 months ago so it’s a bit much to expect him to provide the impetus.

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Feyi-Waboso England Borthwick verdict
England’s Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Feyi-Waboso is talented, has a point of difference and I’m glad he’s getting his chance so hopefully he will give the pedestrian England attack a bit more of a spark but it’s those inside him who need to light the fire.

Ollie Lawrence only returned against Scotland and Henry Slade is an extra distributor who hasn’t done too much wrong this tournament and has been tearing it up for Exeter but it bewilders me that George Ford is still in the number 10 jersey.

Marcus Smith would surely have started at fly-half in Round 1 if he’d been available, he’s clearly fit now and I’m not buying that Ford has to retain the jersey for the sake of continuity when England’s attack hasn’t been firing at all and their chances of winning the tournament are as good as gone.

Yes, they could win both their remaining games with a bonus point but the likelihood of Ireland not beating Scotland in Dublin or the Scots having not garnered enough points to be champions if that does happen, is slim to none.

So it seems disingenuous to suggest that Ford should get the nod based on a focus on the present, England should be looking to the future and I’m sure Simon Easterby and Ireland’s defence would be more concerned by the prospect of facing Smith.

Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Danny Care winning his 100th cap off the bench will be a special moment that will hopefully get the crowd involved and give England a burst of energy when it happens but Alex Mitchell’s return should help inject a bit of pace.

Borthwick actually criticised the players publicly for going off script against Scotland, and I’m not sure how well that will have gone down in camp, but it isn’t yet obvious to anyone on the outside what he wants so it’s understandable if the players get confused too.

It’s clearly a result of the plan rather than the personnel but England have the slowest average ruck speed in the tournament and they’re going to have to step that up significantly if they’re going to stress the Irish defence.

Speed of ball is key to Ireland’s game and unsurprisingly they have the quickest average ruck speed in the competition so England will have to slow them down but they can’t do that for 80 minutes and they’re going to need to generate quick ball themselves.

Ireland don’t throw too many wide passes but they’re clever and all comfortable getting their hands on the ball, making 220 passes per game on average which is almost twice as many as England do.

There is definitely a perception among fans of England and other countries that the men in white are boring and don’t want the ball and it’s up to them, and Borthwick in particular, to disprove that and start entertaining.

Twickenham
Twickenham/ PA

It’s all very well talking about doing so and getting Rag n Bone Man on at half-time but England need to get supporters involved and energised with the rugby they’re trying to play and then we’ll see if Twickenham can respond.

England have been getting territory with their kicking game but the fact that they have the worst red zone efficiency in the Six Nations and are earning just 1.8 points per visit to the opposition 22 suggests muddled thinking in attack.

They’ll need a lot better return than that against Ireland and that should be their main focus rather than just trying to negate what the men in green are going to do.

Ireland are a phenomenal side, in the top two teams in the world if they aren’t the best, and it might be a good media line but when you look at the team sheet, there honestly isn’t a single England player that would get in their starting XV at the moment.

That isn’t just because they’re such a well-oiled machine and have a brilliant system, it’s looking at the individual players and their qualities and Ireland are quite simply better from one to 15 right now.

England are underdogs, they aren’t going to win the title and if they play like they have to this point, I think they’ll lose by 25 points. They should be focusing on themselves more than the opposition but Borthwick insists they have a plan and there’s no better time to show your hand than against the champions-elect.

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24 Comments
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Turlough 99 days ago

I know Andy Goode has lauded the need to get the ball out to the edges to outscore Ireland. But in the RWC quarter NZ completely disrupted Irelands attacking lineout and won several scrum penalties. They still needed couple of long range tries. England plan to disrupt Ireland's set piece…. For scores it will be quick attacks off regathered kicks. That’s the plan.
Eveyones got a plan until they get a punch in the mouth.
IIreland will have a plan that involves an early punch in the mouth or two.

England were not for enough to maintain their rush defense for the whole Scottish match. I expect Ireland to score more easily as the English defense rush tires leaving big holes

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Colin 99 days ago

Agree with much of AG’s analysis except Slade has not had a good tournament. He can run a line but has no speed, footwork, offers a dummy or is physical. He is no Will Greenwood, let alone Conrad Smith.

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Crawfurd 99 days ago

Armchair critics; what makes today’s social media so toxic. Arguably, England’s problems go well beyond what coach they have. A Premiership which is at odds with the national body, clubs owned by the rich, and clubs whose squads are packed with foreign talent. Ireland (and to a degree, Scotland) have a more aligned setup, though we Scots have challenges with domestic lack of players. So, cut some slack and give Borthers a chance - we took our time for Gregor to embed his ethos, despite the armchair warriors!

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Anthony 99 days ago

Campo and loads of ex pros are all saying the same thing.
Englands attack is non existant. How on earth does FORD keep his place . When SB could have played the northants 9,10,12 and 15 as a unit he put overrated FORD in. Typical Eddie stubborness . Who SB worked under when England began to play utter rubbish.
Now its FORD again . At least he will be shown up good and proper and England will just have to play a proper 10 , not reliant on Owen to take the heat .
In any other sport , a player who fails to perform again and again would have been dropped years ago . Flapping your arms and directing everyone else is NOT what being a class player is. Watch the telly to see what I mean when the camera is on Ford.
No wonder they are saying NOT one player would get into the Irish team.
That is NOT 90 odd cap FORD for a rookie 22 year old. laughable.

I wonder if any of the England coaches read the reviews and wonder why they are so apart from national opinion .

Sorry i appear to be anxious but this has gone on long enough .

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Michele 99 days ago

Actually, there is very often smoke without fire-it only takes one disgruntled team or staff member complaining to get all of rugby media buzzing. I enjoy your analysis, but I can’t help wondering how quickly could any coach turn this outfit around? I think expectation is too high.

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Tom 99 days ago

“It sounds like an obvious point but elements of England’s selection show they’re focusing more on the opposition than themselves.”

Totally agree with this. Borthwick is a clever guy and he's overthinking it. I remember NZ picking Scott Barrett in the back row to try and counter us in the 2019 WC Semi and they got smashed. Picking Chessum in the backrow is a shocking decision. You've hit the nail on the head, the best way to win a game of rugby is to cause the opposition problems. Don't focus on how you're going to counter what they're going to do. You need to pick your best team and and give em hell.

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Eric 100 days ago

13 points in it last season, with england playing a man down for a full half. Its virtually the same irish team,2nd row and no sexton. SB got this result after the french destruction. Hope he’s learnt something.

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Paul 100 days ago

I believe England should use a selection panel made up of ex-players and take selection out of the coach’s hands. Let the coach, coach. It would limit how much damage a head coach can do. It would also mitigate the tendency of a coach to have favourites. If a selection panel was used for this game, Earl would not be playing eight, Chessum would not be playing at six and Care would not be ahead of Spencer. Also, Mercer would be involved. And previously, if a selection panel had been used, Don Armand, Dave Ewers, Alex Goode, Dan Robson, Nick Tompkins and Danny Cipriani would not have been overlooked.

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john 100 days ago

Andy Goode master plan start CC South great promise sure he will be a outstanding player given time ,he is usually a replacement for Harlequins must be so easy being a pundit

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BigMaul 100 days ago

What’s going on in the rugby media around England?

We had to put up with 8 years of Eddie Jones talking nonsense and producing steadily declining results. There was clearly a problem.Fans lost interest and were disillusioned. It was a real low ebb for English rugby. But for some reason, Jones was immune to criticism in the media. He was never held accountable. Given ample time to right the ship.

Now Borthwick is in charge. It’s Been a mixed bag but there have been some surprisingly good results (a semi final finish at the World Cup) and a willingness to develop an attacking game plan this 6N. Given what he took over from Jones, he’s gone okay so far. Fans are, mostly, on side. The booing has stopped. But the media have absolutely no patience. The knives are out. They are hell bent on criticising SB.

How, Andy Goode, can you be tired of waiting for SBs master plan when he has been in the job 1 year, after happily waiting 7.5 years for Jones’ master plan to appear?

The media are completely out of touch with the fan base.

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