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Steve Borthwick takes aim at culture of fear in England times past

By Liam Heagney
Steve Borthwick with England in Rome on Saturday (Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick has stuck the boot in on his predecessors as England coach, suggesting a culture of fear over making a mistake shackled players from being at their best at Test level in the past.

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The 44-year-old, whose 57-cap international career spanned nine years from 2001 to 2010 under Clive Woodward, Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton and Martin Johnson, went on to become assistant coach under Eddie Jones from 2016 to 2020.

He then earned his head coach stripes as the Premiership title-winning Leicester coach before taking over as Test boss from Jones in December 2022.

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Saturday in Rome was his 17th game in charge and while the 27-24 win that England secured was far from pretty, Borthwick backed his players to the hilt at his post-game debrief.

His long-term hope is that England will develop a game plan that will put fear into the top sides across the world and he insisted he won’t employ a no-mistakes-allowed culture of fear in his squad to make that success happen.

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Instead, he wants his players to be able to do what they do best without fearing the whip from the sideline when it comes to expressing themselves on the pitch.

Asked about his players having the confidence to take risks under his watch, he explained: “Fundamentally this is one of the challenges right now. For a long time players – and I felt this as a player, I felt it as squads I was a part of with England for a long time – is the possibility of making a mistake and the ramifications of it.

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“I have seen this with players I played with and teams I was part of, not bringing all their strengths onto the pitch for fear of a mistake. What I see in this group of players now is a group of players is this group of players is just determined to do well, has incredible skill level – and we are going to make mistakes.

“It’s a new team and it’s ensuring the players understand we are going to learn from them and we are going to keep getting better and I keep wanting you to want more; I want you to have a go, I want you to bring your strengths, whatever it is, bring your strengths onto the pitch and we are going to try and decrease that concern, that worry that has been in teams previously.

“That’s my personal experience of seeing players playing with England. I want them to come and put a white shirt on and grow to be even better; I want a white shirt to help them be even better, even stronger than they have been before.”

It was a theme picked up by new skipper Jamie George, who revealed he chatted last month with Borthwick about this very topic. “Yeah, that certainly has been the case previously,” he said when asked about this alleged culture of fear surrounding mistakes.

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“When Steve and I met a few weeks ago we were talking around that. I don’t necessarily think it’s risk, it’s having the courage to execute the game plan as best as you can.

“That’s probably what we are talking about and what we are very lucky to have is a coaching staff that are very clear about how we go after things and as players that just means we have the courage to go and do it.

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“Sometimes at the highest level pressure comes on and you almost just want to sit back and worry about not making a mistake as has been the case previously.

“What pleased me the most (against Italy) was we got cut a couple of times in the first half; did it take anything away from our linespeed? Absolutely not. We had the courage to go after them again.”

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1 Comment
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Colin 135 days ago

England are over coached and the coaches are not inspiring. You only have to see what Gatland does with his meagre resources and the way the Welsh play to understand that SB and certainly RW do not inspire. At all. These England players play nothing like they do in the Premiership because of the prescriptive over coaching which takes out their natural way of playing.

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