It’s been one of rugby’s worst kept secrets for a couple of weeks now but the appointment of Steve Borthwick to the head job at Twickenham couldn’t have come soon enough.
While the Rugby Football Union planned their transition from the era of Eddie Jones to a new period under the former Leicester Tigers boss Borthwick, the clock has continued to click down towards next year’s World Cup.
It’s just 46 days until Borthwick’s first match in charge of the Red Rose – a Calcutta Cup versus Scotland at Twickenham in the Six Nations – and less than 10 months until he leads an England side low on confidence into a World Cup across the Channel in France.
Critics have already said that England could crash out in the pool stages for the second time in three World Cups – they’re in a pool with Argentina and Japan – while others are buoyed by the fresh start in TW2.
Borthwick plays it straight, he bats off difficult questions with ease and rarely engages in the arena of games his predecessor thrived in; his aura is one of toughness and calmness.
But yesterday as he sat for his first press conference since becoming head coach – livestreamed for all to see – there was a sense of giddiness about him. He looked genuinely excited.
And who wouldn’t be? He’s penned a five-year deal which could see him take England to two World Cups, and he’s managed to get his defence coach from his Leicester days – Kevin Sinfield – down the M1 with him.
I think what’s really interesting is people came out and said quite rightly England are behind the other nations.Steve Borthwick yesterday
Sinfield is relentless and a stickler for detail, but he’s also somebody many will look to for inspiration – his fundraising efforts for motor neurone disease has become a shining example of how to be part of a team and how to do things for others. That cannot be underestimated.
But the job is not an easy one. Borthwick will spend the coming days and weeks finalising his coaching set up, with a number of those in the current batch expected to leave their roles, before picking a training group in January – though, interestingly, the Times report that Borthwick is only allowed to make five player changes from the performance squad which flopped in the autumn.
Then comes a Six Nations tournament – where England’s poor results began a dismal 2022 in which they won just five Tests in 12 matches – before the side will play a number of summer friendlies. Thereafter, it’s across the Channel and into the plunge pool of a World Cup.
“I think what’s really interesting is people came out and said quite rightly England are behind the other nations,” Borthwick said yesterday.
“I remember being sat in a changing room where England lost to South Africa 36-0 in the second game at the World Cup in 2007 and everybody was writing England off then.
“I remember being in the meeting the next day when we were trying to make sure we were addressing what needed to be addressed and that World Cup went within a boot brush or a white line of [us] winning.
“People are writing England off right now and that’s OK. My job and the player’s job is to go out and make sure we take a step forward.”
Purring to glory
Borthwick joined Leicester in 2022 and had them purring to Premiership glory in the early summer of 2022 – but he doesn’t have that time with England ahead of the coming showpiece event, albeit he clearly has the fight.
What does success look like? Given the team have written off results across the last three years in order to win a World Cup, is any new plan still one of realism? And how can England progress anywhere in next year’s global tournament when they’re starting from scratch now?
There are so many questions for Borthwick and Sinfield to get their heads around in the coming weeks but it’s a certainty that things are going to be different at Twickenham.
Whether those differences encourage better results, well that’s to be seen.