Head coach Eddie Jones’ premiership as England boss descended into an unseemly club versus country row only weeks into his tenure after a tug-of-war over former skipper Steve Borthwick broke out yesterday.
The Rugby Football Union[RFU] released a statement confirming Borthwick, who worked under Jones with Japan before joining Bristol as their forwards coach following this year’s World Cup, as the first appointment to the Australian’s new-look backroom team.
Within hours of the announcement, Bristol issued a strong retort and insisted the RFU had not been given permission to speak with line-out specialist Borthwick, no deal had been concluded for the 36-year-old and that he remained under contract at the Championship club.
“Steve Borthwick has today indicated to the club that he wishes to join the RFU coaching team. Bristol Rugby want to make it clear that we have not agreed that he can leave our employment,” read a club statement.
“Steve Borthwick is subject to a recently signed long-term employment contract. Bristol Rugby did not give the RFU permission to speak with him. Bristol Rugby will take all reasonable actions as necessary to protect the club’s position and, therefore, will not be making any further statement at this stage.”
Borthwick worked under Jones as Japan’s forwards coach for three years, which included the Brave Blossoms’ shock defeat of southern hemisphere powerhouse South Africa in the group stages of the World Cup in September.
The duo also worked together at Saracens after Jones signed the towering second row from Bath in 2008, and Borthwick, who won 57 England caps during a nine-year international career, was quick to express his delight at reuniting with the Australian.
“This is a really exciting opportunity to join the England set-up and to link up with Eddie again,” said Borthwick. “This is a huge honour to be asked as these chances don’t come around often. We have an exciting group of players in England and I am really looking forward to the challenge and getting England beating the best teams in the world.”
Jones added: “Steve has a huge amount of international experience as a player and a captain and his coaching in Japan in recent years shows he can get the best out of players at the highest level.
“He is a great addition and I look forward to working with him again as we look ahead to the start of the RBS Six Nations next year.”
The overhaul of England’s coaching staff was accelerated on Monday when Jones severed ties with his predecessor Stuart Lancaster’s trusted assistants Graham Rowntree, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt.
Saracens boss Mark McCall confirmed on Sunday that defence coach Paul Gustard was considering an offer to join England’s coaching team, while Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder indicated yesterday that backs coach Alex King also features Jones’ radar.
“There’s no official contact from the RFU, but I understand that Alex is probably looking to meet Eddie sometime this week and have an informal chat,” said Mallinder. “If Alex wants to go and work for England I don’t think the club will prevent him from that.”