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Sale's verdict on Jonny Hill's form ahead of his Borthwick meet-up

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

Sale have shared their thoughts on the prospects of Jonny Hill potentially getting back in Steve Borthwick’s England squad for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations. Their 2022 second row signing from Exeter was a regular for his country when he arrived in Manchester, but his fortunes have been different since Eddie Jones relinquished the reins.

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Hill went from being a selection favourite who started all four of last November’s Autumn Nations Series games to the squad fringes and his only cap in 2023 was off the bench in the Summer Nations Series opener away to Wales, a 34-minute run that was followed two days later by the official confirmation that he hadn’t made the cut for the Rugby World Cup.

The 29-year-old continued to train with England as cover for the rehabilitating Ollie Chessum, but he eventually went to back Sale rather than go to France as the young Leicester lock made good his comeback, carrying on to play on all seven of the games the English played in the finals campaign that culminated in a bronze medal finish.

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That non-selection isn’t the end of the line for Hill with Borthwick’s England, though. Rather than name a squad to assemble for mini-camps ahead of the Six Nations, which starts with a February 3 game in Rome, the head coach has altered the approach and is instead visiting the training grounds of all 10 Gallagher Premiership clubs and teams in France such as Henry Arundell’s Racing to keep tabs not only on the players who featured at France 2023 but also those on the fringes.

This tactic will see Borthwick meet with eight Sale players – including Hill – next Tuesday at Carrington, and Sharks director of rugby Alex Sanderson likes this idea of Borthwick coming and visiting a wider group of players rather than the club sending a smaller group down the country to an England squad mini-camp.

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“What they used to do was have a couple of days at a camp, which was agreed to, and they would go away for two days, usually on a Monday and Tuesday. They would be beaten up on a Monday anyway so they wouldn’t be able to do anything, and they’d miss the Tuesday sessions and it would be really adverse on any team’s prep, the whole country’s prep because every team has got two or three lads in there.

“Now what they are doing to spend more quality time with the players is going to where those players live and spending an afternoon with those players, just one afternoon twice, and going through their games with them, their prospects and what they have got to do I guess to get into that squad and they will be able to spend more time with more players over that afternoon.

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“It’s brilliant for us because it means was can arrange our training day around when they are not meeting with Steve. He asked me what my thoughts were and I said that’s brilliant, these dates are good and we talked about these players and more but these are the guys he has flagged up to come and have a chat too.

“This will be nationwide. There will be lots more (players talked to) than what he is able to select in a squad to get a feel for the people that they are. It’s really smart, I think.”

Hill will meet Borthwick along with Manu Tuilagi, Ben Curry, Tom Curry, Bevan Rodd, George Ford, Joe Carpenter and Tom Roebuck and he will go into that gathering with the praise of Sanderson ringing in his ears due to his influential play in his six starts in a season where Sale lead the Premiership after seven rounds ahead of Friday’s trip to Harlequins.

“He has actually played better in the last few games than he has at any time for us, for Sale. He has had to reframe what his drivers are and his plan for the next four years because what used to motivate him isn’t there in terms of the next World Cup potentially.

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“He will probably be too old for that although he might disagree. He has a meeting with Steve Borthwick on Tuesday, as have seven other of our players, so there is still light there for him to play international rugby and he is playing to the standard that would indicate that he is capable.”

What were the conversations Sanderson had after Hill learned he was surplus to World Cup requirements with England? “We spoke about the importance of having to reframe, but I actually left it to someone else in this department.

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“We spoke rugby, me and Jonny, and how he applies himself in the week and for his longer-term goals and understanding the whole of him, which is quite important for Jonny. He is quite a likable fella and I don’t think he wants to let me in to that degree.

“We have got Wayne Hoyle in-house, he was here on Tuesday, an ex-SAS commander, and he is part of this mental skills programme we put together by way of mentoring. He looks after senior players, four or five come under his remit, and Callum Clark looks after some very junior players, four or five.

“Then we pick up the rest of the squad and we will apply those mentors or more if we think they need extra help so this is just part of it. Rather than have one sports psych, we are putting four or five people in different areas.”

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