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Steve Borthwick and the spelling gaffe that keeps inspiring him

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Past conversations with Steve Borthwick used to be like getting blood from a stone, but the 43-year-old has undergone a public speaking transformation since becoming the new England coach in December. As the England skipper during his playing days and as a national team assistant coach under Eddie Jones, he constantly came across as a very guarded individual unwilling to shine a light on the insightful rugby personality that he can be.


This ducking and diving continued during his time as the Leicester head coach, his media engagements remaining stilted affairs where information was difficult to mine, but he has now undergone a very noticeable shift in the knowledge he wants to volunteer.

Those shackles came off on his very first day as the England boss last month and his open approach has continued with the countdown now on towards next weekend’s February 4 Guinness Six Nations opener versus Scotland at Twickenham.

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For instance, just the other day at the tournament media launch in London, he had a room jam-packed full of reporters heartily laughing when he delivered the punchline about a pep talk he had as a teenager with a school careers advisor.

The October 1979-born Borthwick was a wide-eyed 15-year-old when rugby first turned professional in the summer of 1995 and asked ahead of his first match as England head coach to explain how proud he is to be in that position, the now 43-year-old recalled a gag made at his expense by an old tutor.

“The first thing was I wanted to be an international player,” he said, casting his mind back to his days as a big-dreaming teenager. “Rugby turned professional in ’95 and I remember we did this careers day and the school teacher said, ‘Right, what do you want to be?’ I wrote up that I wanted to be a professional rugby player and I wanted to play for England.


“You had to give it to the teacher, the careers advisor, and I was expecting this incredibly disapproving glance that you are not going to be a professional rugby player, that next to no people make it as a professional rugby player.

“To the career advisor’s great credit, he look at me and said, ‘You want to be a professional rugby player?’ I said, ‘Yes, and I want to play for England’. He said, ’You better learn how to spell professional right!’

“I was privileged that I got to be a professional rugby player and, most importantly, I got to play for England, I got to captain England. There is lots I wish I would have done differently, lots I want to make sure these young men do better than I did. I had the opportunity to be assistant coach, that’s a privilege. And now I have the great honour of coaching these guys as head coach and I can’t wait to get started.”

Quizzed specifically as to what the Six Nations personally means to Borthwick, the England boss added: “I’d be telling my little boy he has got to move away from the TV, your eyes will go square if you sit right in front, if you sit that close to the TV. I was that boy, sat so close to the TV, the anthems, the hairs on the back of your neck would stand up!


“I remember that now and then I was privileged to play at Twickenham against Wales when I was 16 years old for England schoolboys and then played more schoolboy internationals. And then, do you remember when they used to play the U21s and the A team games on a Friday night before a Six Nations game and you’d go to the city wherever it was?

“I remember being in Edinburgh, the U21s had played, the A team had played and this city, because the international was the next day, was just buzzing with the excitement of what was coming with this tournament. Rivalries go back so far. So many people have been involved in these games and we are privileged to be part of it now, Just a small part but we are privileged to be part of it.”


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