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'Steve's brave': Leicester boss Borthwick is impressing Saracens

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

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Back-at-work Saracens boss Mark McCall has saluted the excellent Leicester transformation orchestrated this season by Steve Borthwick, the London club’s second row when they defeated Tigers to win their breakthrough Premiership title in 2011. 

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Leicester boss Borthwick spent the last six seasons of his playing career at Saracens where he had McCall as boss for three-and-a-half years as well as another season-and-a-half as an assistant coach before Brendan Venter moved on in the winter of 2010/11. 

Having skippered Saracens under McCall and then earned his coaching stripes as a Test level assistant under Eddie Jones with Japan and England, Borthwick took over as the Leicester head coach in summer 2020. Results were initially hard to come by in the restarted 2019/20 Premiership and again in last season, his first full campaign in charge. 

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However, the groundwork laid during at time has now helped to transform the fortunes of Leicester as they were leading the Premiership by 16 points from second place Saracens heading into this weekend’s round of matches.  

That pole position status is a far cry from the back-to-back 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons where the Tigers finished eleventh and they would likely have been relegated in that second season if the authorities hadn’t automatically demoted Saracens to the second tier due to repeated salary cap breaches.  

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The London club is back enjoying their first campaign back in the top flight and while McCall missed their last four matches due to a break to take care of a medical issue, he returned to work last week on their bye-week and will be in charge when Leicester visit the StoneX Arena for this Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash.  

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McCall will welcome his ex-player with open arms and he told RugbyPass during the build-up to the game how highly he rated the rebuild job Borthwick has done at Leicester. “Absolutely brilliant,” he enthused. 

“Steve is brave, to begin with, because he embedded the system that he wanted them to play and that was always going to take some time, but he didn’t mind losing a few matches along the way to get that in place. He rotated his squad in a huge way, rewarded people for training effort and that kind of thing.

“Although they lost some games he built trust in the group that if a player delivered on the field you would get picked and you can see all of that now with the mix in their teams, some hugely experienced players in the spine of their team and some really good young players coming through. They are all comfortable playing what is a very territorial-based game that most teams can’t cope with that

“I guess, hats off to Steve for doing this as quickly as he has done. To be 15 wins out of 17 games and 70 points at this point of the season is an incredible effort by them. They are so consistent week-on-week, so it will be a heck of a challenge for us this weekend.”

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