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The problems Steve Borthwick must fix in post-Jones era

By PA
Steve Borthwick (PA)

England responded to their worst year of results since 2008 by sacking Eddie Jones as head coach, with Steve Borthwick expected to take over.

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Here, the PA news agency takes a look at Borthwick’s in-tray ahead of the Six Nations if Jones’ former number two is lured away from Leicester.

Forge an identity

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England lost their way in the wake of their 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa. Muddled tactics and scattergun selection were exacerbated by the high turnover of backroom staff, helping to create an identity crisis that really took hold in the 2021 Six Nations. Beyond commitment and resilience, a confused team lacked any defining characteristics and by the end of the recent autumn series even their fight had drained away. Borthwick must immediately provide England with clarity over who and what they are.

Find a renewed sense of purpose

Once the team’s identity is set, a renewed sense of purpose needs to be established. In a departure from the Jones era, shelve talk of the World Cup and instead concentrate on one goal only – winning the Six Nations. A remarkable admission by Jones in the wake of the 30-29 defeat by Argentina that opened the autumn was that focus had been lost because of his planning for the global event in France that begins in nine months. Jones’ willingness to sacrifice everything in pursuit of winning the World Cup was harmful to the team and damaging to the relationship with fans, who pay high ticket prices to watch England succeed in the here and now.

Rebuild the foundations

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It might not set pulses racing, but restoring the traditional pillars of English strength in defence and the scrum would provide a baseline of being hard to beat – and maybe more. Both have developed into areas of concern over the last year. The defence is no longer the dominant force seen under John Mitchell, the assistant coach who departed 18 months ago, and the scrum was alarmingly vulnerable in the climax to the autumn against South Africa, capping a poor year in this aspect of England’s set-piece.

Halt the selection carousel

During his seven years in charge, Jones capped 112 players, with 14 of them making only one appearance. The Australian was loyal to a core of senior and established performers, but frequently chopped and changed around the fringes. Experimenting in selection is a valid part of the job but at times it seemed totally random, with players coming and going for no apparent reason, sometimes never to be seen again, and others inexplicably returning at a later date – just ask Joe Marchant, Ben Earl and Ollie Lawrence.

Reignite the attack

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Nowhere is England’s malaise under Jones more apparent than in attack. Scott Wisemantel, the excellent Australian attack coach who departed after the 2019 World Cup, has never been adequately replaced, but 2022 has been especially incoherent with the ball in hand. At the heart of the problem is the playmaking axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell, which has fired just sporadically to pose the question of how long should England persist with a partnership built on promise only? Borthwick may decide it is either/or at fly-half and simplify the existing approach.

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