Two of the most likely contenders to succeed Eddie Jones as England coach face off on Saturday when Steve Borthwick’s Leicester Tigers host Mark McCall’s Saracens.
Speculation over who could get the job when Jones departs in 2023 resurfaced this week when England forwards coach Richard Cockerill ruled himself out of the running.
Borthwick and McCall are among a handful of domestic candidates which also includes Sale’s Alex Sanderson and Rob Baxter at Exeter.
In my view, the Rugby Football Union should be looking for a coach who can deliver an inspiring brand of rugby to match our deep pool of talent.
Last year’s Premiership showed how exciting English rugby can be, with champions Harlequins a great example for all kids (including our newest arrival, Alfie, who was born on Tuesday).
The RFU need someone who can take that onto the international stage but Jones’s successor also has to be able to handle the political and media aspects of the role.
You can’t look past McCall for what he has achieved and the culture he has helped to build at Saracens. He is a very shrewd operator and would be an England coach in keeping with the Jones mould.
Former England captain Borthwick, who has also been part of Jones’s staff, meanwhile, has been there and done it. He has used his knowledge and experience to reinvigorate Leicester and I’m sure he’s an England head coach in the making.
Borthwick will be ready for England in 2023
Sanderson is another great prospect currently cutting his teeth but is perhaps less adept at the media side than Borthwick.
He and Baxter, I think, need the day-to-day involvement that club rugby brings. Borthwick, on the other hand, is a detail guy who I’d see relishing the downtime that the international schedule allows for tinkering.
Shaun Edwards is an excellent operator who has helped turn around France but I’m not sure he’s suited to being a head coach and all the stuff that goes on away from the training pitches.
It won’t be lost on the RFU that Ireland currently have an Englishman, Andy Farrell, in charge. But they had the chance to go for him and didn’t so I don’t see that happening.
I’m not obsessed with it being an Englishman, although there are no obvious overseas contenders.
Scott Robertson, who was overlooked by the All Blacks but is primed for an international job after sustained success with Crusaders in New Zealand, might be the standout.
But for me it feels like Borthwick replacing Jones is written in the stars. By 2023 he’ll have three years at Leicester under his belt and he’ll be ready.
Leicester face acid test against Saracens
Saturday’s match at Welford Road is a great test for two teams who have made flying starts to the new Premiership season.
Saracens have come back up and done what they do beautifully. They are maddeningly efficient and I’ve no doubt they will finish in the top four. The only question is if they still have the hunger that made them the best in Europe.
Leicester have great momentum and look to be building something very special. We don’t yet know how good they are against the very best, but if they follow their win against Exeter with another over Sarries everyone will have to take them – and Borthwick – seriously.
Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development & behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.