Steve Borthwick hits back, claiming England 'written off too early'
Steve Borthwick has claimed people have written off his England team too early ahead of their Rugby World Cup campaign which starts this Saturday versus Argentina in Marseille. The head coach has endured a difficult time since succeeding Eddie Jones; his side losing five of their last six matches and six of the nine outings in total.
However, having flown into Marseille on Thursday following a week of preparation at base camp in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, Borthwick has strongly expressed his belief that an XV showing four changes from the team beaten on August 26 by Fiji in London can deliver victory in their opening Pool D match.
After confirming a selection that heralded recalls for Elliot Daly, Joe Marchant, Jamie George and the finally fit-again Tom Curry, Borthwick said: “This is a fantastic tournament and everyone involved in the England team can’t wait to get started.
“I said earlier in the week I sensed from the players there is a feeling they have been written off too early. People have been calling on them a bit too early and I think there is a lot of class in this squad and I think these players have got a hell of a lot more to go and they can’t wait to get stuck in on Saturday night.
“There is a quality group of players here who I sense have a real determination to put their best performances on the park. I sense that the frustration, what people have been saying about them… our expectation is that these players are going to go and perform with the quality they have this week led by Courtney (Lawes).
“This team has taken some setbacks. It has had to adapt, it has had to overcome. When I look at people like the man next to me [Lawes] who is tough and hard, has overcome a lot, there is a huge number in this squad who are just like him, made of tough stuff and I expect them to bring that onto the pitch on Saturday night.”
Sifting through his selection decisions, Borthwick began by explaining why Kyle Sinckler, who was the No1-choice tighthead during the Guinness Six Nations, was excluded from the match day 23, the coach instead opting to start Dan Cole with Will Stuart providing cover from the bench.
“I said at the start of the week I expected every player to be available for selection come Saturday (bar the suspended Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola). We have had players doing modified training, Kyle Sinckler being one of them, so whilst he could have been available for Saturday’s game, I decided to pick the two players who have done all of our training.
“Dave Ribbans is in a similar situation that he had to modify training a little bit later on in the week and I decided to pick the players that have done all that training [George Martin was given the No19 shirt Ribbans had against the Fijians.”
The exclusion of Sinckler heralds a start for Cole, the player who had a torrid time in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final when introduced off the bench after just two minutes for the concussed Sinckler. Cole went from November 2019 until February this year without a cap and Borthwick paid tribute to the prop’s perseverance in fighting his way back into favour.
“It says a huge amount about his character, it says a huge amount about him as a person. He has been superb. He has been one of those wise heads. He doesn’t say much but when he does speak you know it is important and time seems to stand still when he speaks.
“He has wisdom there that he can share from all those Test matches that he has played. I’ll come back to it again; we have got players here who know what it is to perform on the biggest of stages. Players who are determined to win for themselves and this team and for their families and I am excited to see them go on Saturday.”
Curry’s availability to start is seen as a big boost for England following his ankle injury lay-off. “We have got players right throughout this 23 who have performed on the biggest of stages. Tom Curry is one of them.
“He is in fantastic physical condition. He missed a period of training, his movement is exceptional. If you look at that back five of the scrum with Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Courtney, Maro (Itoje), Ollie Chessum, you see a mobile, athletic back five at the scrum.”
Two players in the starting XV weren’t original World Cup squad picks on August 7, but Alex Mitchell is now the starting scrum-half while Jonny May is on the right wing following the respective campaign-ending injuries to Jack van Poortvliet and Anthony Watson. “It’s immense credit to Alex in that he was incredibly disappointed not to make the original 33-man squad,” suggested Borthwick
“I asked every player that I spoke to at that point to go away (when the squad was cut) and ensure they were ready to be the next man in and an opportunity opened up and I thought one of the positives that came out of that Fiji game was his performance. He played well and he has trained exceptionally well.
“He has done exactly what we asked, make sure he was ready to go… To start this game, what Alex brings is what is right for this team, the combinations we have. You can see he is a dangerous running threat. Everybody knows his is a dangerous running threat.
“You couldn’t ask more of Jonny in terms of what he has done. He has been exemplary in that regard, which is immense credit to him. The second thing I will say is we knew we would need to adapt. Planning process is essential because that allows you to adapt.
“Jonny has done every training session with us, every day with us, and then stepped into that Fijian game. We have talked about the performance of Alex, the performance of Jonny was also very good and he has earned his selection this week.”
It was only last November when England were beaten 29-30 by Argentina at Twickenham. Just five of match day 23 have been selected in this Saturday’s 23 – the starting Freddie Steward, Manu Tuilagi, Ellie Genge, Maro Itoje and Curry. That was an Autumn Nations Series match that Borthwick – the then Leicester head coach – watched from home.
“I wasn’t at the game. I watched the game on television and I was cheering England on as much as I possibly could because I am desperate for the England team to win. I visited camp that week and watched them train for a day and I was desperate for this team to go and win, as I always have ever since I was a young boy supporting this team.
“Argentina, what a good side they are and the wins they have had over the last 12 months. Now our job is to put a performance that this team is capable of, that I know these players are capable of. These players are determined to deliver on Saturday night, that is our job.”
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