Revealed: What is driving new England coach
INTERVIEW: Steve Borthwick heads into his first match as England head coach, a Calcutta Cup clash against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday, determined to ensure the team avoid making the same mistakes that marred his international career.
The 43-year-old former lock won 57 caps from 2001-10 and was England’s captain in 21 of those Tests.
Yet the sense of what might have been still lingering for Borthwick, left out by then coach Clive Woodward from the 2003 England squad that went on to win the World Cup.
Things changed when Martin Johnson, himself an outstanding second row, took charge after a 2007 World Cup where Borthwick was a bit-part player as England made it to the Final – only to lose to South Africa.
Johnson, a World Cup-winning skipper, appointed Borthwick, renowned for his care in planning line-out strategy, captain.
It was a tough time, however, with England losing 11 matches in 20.
In 2010, Borthwick suffered a knee injury. Lewis Moody took over as captain and, with Courtney Lawes emerging at Test level, Johnson didn’t just remove the captaincy from Borthwick, he dropped him entirely.
Borthwick never played another Test.
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“I was privileged to play 57 times for England, I had the great honour of captaining them 21 times, but I look back on a lot of that time and regret a lot of the things I didn’t do,” said Borthwick at the recent Six Nations launch.
“There’s lots I wish I had done differently, lots I want to make sure that these young guys do better.”
Eddie Jones was a fan. He brought Borthwick from Bath to be his captain when director of rugby at Saracens and the Australian, now at the helm of his native Wallabies for a second time, would later employ him as an assistant coach when in charge of Japan, and then England.
Jones would later say of Borthwick there is “no one better when it comes to details”.
Borthwick left Jones’ England set-up to take charge of Leicester, and, revived the fallen giants, guiding the Tigers to the Premiership title last season.
There was a certain irony when he replaced Jones after Twickenham chiefs decided to fire the now 63-year-old just nine months before this year’s World Cup in France, following a woeful 2022 when England lost six out of 12 Tests.
Infamously reserved a player, Borthwick came to understand he needed to be more communicative as a coach.
Unlike Jones, who loves to wind up his opponents with verbal jibes, Borthwick’s very English ability to tell a joke against himself could help ease the tension evident among some England players near the end of his predecessor’s time in charge.
If nothing else, Borthwick’s tale of a chastening encounter with a school careers advisor has the makings of a classic.
“I wrote: ‘I want to be a professional rugby player and I want to play for England’,” he recalled.
“I was expecting this incredibly disapproving reaction, like: ‘You’re not going to be a professional rugby player’ and to the careers advisor’s great credit, she looked at me and said: ‘You want to be a professional rugby player? Well, you’d better learn how to spell ‘professional’ then’.”