Steve Borthwick has issued a withering assessment of the England side he inherited from Eddie Jones after making a losing start to his tenure against Scotland, insisting they “weren’t good at anything”.
England were improved in some aspects on Saturday, most notably their attacking structures. But they were defensively poor, shipping four tries, with Scotland coming back from 20-12 to claim a famous victory and establish their best winning sequence in the fixture since the 1970s.
Borthwick was appointed on December 19th and in his two weeks’ preparation before the start of the Six Nations he has sought to bring clarity to his England side after feedback from the players that the messaging had become muddled.
After the defeat by Scotland, he highlighted how poor England’s scrum had become – on Saturday it improved as the match wore on – as well as their sluggish ruck speed as issues he realised he needed to fix immediately, while the hooker Jamie George conceded the previous plan under Jones “wasn’t working”.
England host Italy on Sunday where Borthwick will be expected to clinch a first victory in charge but if he is to improve on the haul of just two wins from both the 2021 and the 2022 campaigns he believes there is a lot of ground to make up after a period of decline under Jones.
“I’ve been frank from day one in saying there’s a lot of work to do,” Borthwick said.
“When I looked at the team in the autumn, when I measured the team and got all the data for the team, we weren’t good at anything. It was as frank as that. So we are trying to build some strengths in this team and some bits we are pleased about and some bits we are disappointed about. My job is to make sure we get some improvements next week.
“I have asked the players to play a new way. One thing I have got to do here is get the players to believe in themselves and get the players to bring their strengths to the pitch. Get them to play to the best of themselves, which I don’t think we have seen them do for a while. I think you saw an improvement in that regard.
“There are multiple areas that we have tried to change. I think you saw some improvement in the scrum which I was pleased about because it has been ranked as the worst scrum in tier one rugby. I think we saw some improvements in the attack and speed of ball and we tried to improve the breakdown where I think England were ranked the ninth quickest, so one of the slowest in tier one.”
In a further criticism of the previous England side, Borthwick also highlighted how his team regrouped from conceding two first-half tries against Scotland, suggesting that would not have been the case in the autumn.
“I’d seen a habit with the team of conceding points early and not being able to respond to it. We conceded points [against Scotland] and the biggest thing I was looking at was the response. I thought the response was magnificent.
“In the second half, we came out and played really positively. When we were 20-12 up, I thought: ‘Right, now we can push on.’ Unfortunately, we let them back in. I thought the players showed a lot of resolve for large parts of it. We don’t want that pain, we had it [against Scotland] and we have to use it to be better.”
With just four competitive matches left before England begin their World Cup preparations, Borthwick is unlikely to make wholesale changes for the Italy fixture.
Both Courtney Lawes and Henry Slade could come back into contention after recent calf and hip injuries respectively while Borthwick must also decide whether Henry Arundell and George Ford – who are both one appearance into their comebacks from injury – are ready to come into camp.
“Everyone wants to play,” he said. “One of the fundamental things we want to work on here is picking the right team for the way we want to play against that specific opponent. That’s always going to be the case.
“I want to build that team ethos here so it’s not about individuals it’s about the team succeeding, growing, and sometimes you play a different role. Sometimes you’re starting, sometimes you’re coming off the bench and sometimes you’re one of the non-23 but all that matters is the team.
“If we can build an ethos here to make sure that the team is the most important thing then I think we’ll have an opportunity.” - Guardian