‘I am bitterly disappointed with the result’ – Borthwick vows to ensure England win next week

Steve Borthwick vowed to help England to a win next weekend against Italy
©INPHO/Tom Maher

Saturday afternoons 23-29 loss to Scotland was not the way which Steve Borthwick would have hoped to start his tenure as England head coach.

Much of the build-up to his opening game as head coach had been filled with buzzwords. Talking about ‘clarity’ and ‘fight’ had become normal topics of conversations with players, while getting to grips with things on the pitch was happening in the background.

With less than two weeks to get his players on the same page, the odds were stacked against Borthwick and his coaching staff as they hoped to open up the Guinness Six Nations with a Calcutta Cup.

Their failure to win meant that Gregor Townsend’s side have lifted silverware in the encounter three years in a row and leave England with work to do ahead of Italy’s visit to Twickenham Stadium this Sunday.

“There were some really strong performances,” Borthwick said after the game. “If I look at this game, I am bitterly disappointed with the result. I’m also understanding it’s a first step for us as a new team.

“But there were some really strong performances, and it gives you things to improve on and build on. That is all tempered by the fact we didn’t get the win.

“We wanted the Calcutta Cup, and we didn’t do it and we’ve got to make sure we win next week.”

In his post-match briefing with media, Borthwick maintained how pleased he was with the application of his players over 80 minutes.

There was much to like from the side, as Lewis Ludlam, Ollie Chessum, Max Malins and Ollie Hassell-Collins all backed up their selections with solid performances.

With Italy coming to London next, how Borthwick chooses to select his side is of intrigue. Sticking with the 23 from the Scotland loss could create more cohesion moving forward, while shaking things up could help find England’s strongest side quicker.

“Everyone wants to play,” Borthwick 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 and ethos here to make sure that the team is the most important thing, then I think we’ll have an opportunity.”

Even so, a few good performances on an ultimately disappointing afternoon is not nearly enough to cover up the vast improvements that England will have to make in a short amount of time.

Defensively the side seemed at odds, with new defence coach Kevin Sinfield likely to have plenty to say about a side which missed 20 tackles across the course of 80 minutes.

Missed tackles came at vital points of the fixture, including each of Duhan van der Merwe’s tries, the wing swatting those in white shirts away from him with relative ease.

Likely to be the growing pains of a new regime following the departure of Eddie Jones as head coach, Borthwick and his staff will need time to get what they are teaching in practice on the field at Test level.

Even at Leicester Tigers, it was not a quick fix to turn the East Midlands club into champions once again. To conclude the 2019/20 season, the club finished 11th and a season later were sixth, while also making their way to the Challenge Cup final.

Whether England will follow that same process of initial disappointment before significant growth is unclear, the head coach not of the mindset that there will be a period of pain before signs of progress are seen.

“When you are trying to develop and build a team, you’d like it to be nice, smooth sailing, but unfortunately it wasn’t today,” Borthwick said. “I’d seen a habit with the team conceding points early and not being able to respond to it.

“We conceded points today and the biggest thing I was looking at was the response. The response was magnificent. In the second half, we came out and played really positively.

“Then we were 20-12 up, I thought ‘right now we can push on’. Unfortunately, we let them back in. There was a turnover, the ball squirted out of a ruck and they were over.

“Again, I was looking for a response and there was a lot of positives in the response, to get ourselves back into another position to win the game. Unfortunately, we gave away a critical penalty which let them back in again.

“So there will be some learnings taken from it. I thought the players showed a lot of resolve for large parts of it. We didn’t want that pain, we had it today and we have to use it to be better.”

Not too distantly removed from the game having taken place, Borthwick was unable to comment about the specifics of where he would like to see improvements next week.

While not a totally incoherent display from a side that were booed off the field after their 13-27 loss to South Africa at the end of November, it is clear that there is still work to be done, the head coach perhaps the most aware of that. 

“I think you’ll probably know I’ll be looking closely at it as the earliest possible opportunity,” Borthwick said. “That’s what the players deserve, there’s a quick turnaround before Italy next Sunday.

“We want to make sure we’re a better team, we want to make sure we get wins. I can say there are areas that we want to improve on, we want to win. I said on my first day in the job, I’ve got to make sure this team delivers.”

It has been that insatiable desire to improve which has helped Borthwick across his career. With the passion which the Cumbrian has, it is difficult to imagine that the 43-year-old will throw himself into helping England to victory in a weeks’ time.