A ceaseless desire to make the grade could help Steve Borthwick and England succeed

After turning the ship around at Leicester, Steve Borthwick has the qualities to the same with England
©David Howlett

When 'God Save the King' rings out around Twickenham on Saturday afternoon, a few minutes shy of 4:45pm, don't be surprised to see the ITV cameras pan to Steve Borthwick.

It will undoubtedly be a proud occasion for the 43-year-old - who begins the latest chapter in his coaching ascent - and this weekend's Six Nations opener with Scotland will also be a special moment for so many people who have helped the new England boss along the way.

Someone with a deep connection to Borthwick's rugby journey is Ian Rawsthorne, former deputy head at Hutton Grammar School.

Borthwick was a pupil at the Lancashire institution in the mid-1990s and Rawsthorne's relationship with him was forged in both the classroom and on the field of play.

"I'm very, very pleased for him and he deserves it," Rawsthorne says. "We are all very proud of what he has achieved. We are just pleased for his family, his parents and it is lovely to see. We wish him every success."

Rawsthorne takes time to explain how Borthwick conducted himself as both a student and as an athlete, and how those characteristics have been constants throughout his playing and coaching career.

Whether it was guiding him through his chemistry A-Level or working alongside Bob Kennedy within the school's rugby programme, Rawsthorne witnessed the synergy between Borthwick's academics and extracurricular activities, but also the expectations he set himself to be the best he could be.

"He is an intelligent young man," Rawsthorne, who still teaches chemistry at the school, recalls. "He was an intelligent man at school. He did well at GCSE and did very well at A-Level. He got an A in geography, an A in economics and B in chemistry. That was with me and another colleague and you can put that 'B' down to talking too much rugby during chemistry lessons! All jokes aside, he never lost the focus of his academic studies. He obviously married that up very easily and very well with his love and desire of playing rugby."

As for his sporting ability, Rawsthorne adds: "He led by example on and off the field. He had a role as head of Hines House [at Hutton] and was obviously captain pretty much through the whole of school of his year group.

"He lived and breathed rugby when he was at school. I don't think he played rugby before he came to Hutton but obviously he came in with a big group of lads who were all talented as rugby players.

"He was a good athlete, a good swimmer and enjoyed his trips away. Graham Aitchison - who is still Head of PE - he took Steve's year group to Australia in 1995. He then had a choice in '97 of either coming camping as a prefect with me in France or going to Australia when he was progressing with England. I think it was a no-brainer!"

And those experiences with England only whetted Borthwick's appetite to reach the top. Being selected for international honours is never gifted to a student but when he received his call-up for England U16s, Borthwick became the first pupil from Hutton to gain that type of recognition since Tony Swift.

Rawsthorne reflects on watching Borthwick play at Castlecroft against Portugal before going on to develop further as a player in Sixth Form.

It was in his latter years at school that Borthwick continued to carve out a pathway into a sport that had only just turned professional. Playing in a team which went deep in the Daily Mail Cup before losing in the semi-finals "strengthened Steven a lot" according to Rawsthorne, while the aforementioned trip away to Australia with England Schools increased Borthwick's ceaseless desire to succeed.

"At the time, I think he nearly missed out at the final trial for England," Rawsthorne explains. "It was Doug Walker who was the Deputy Head in charge of rugby at Lancaster and he spoke up for Steve and he ended up getting through and he never looked back from there.

"He obviously played for England in the Lower Sixth which would have been in the team that included [Jonny] Wilkinson, [Mike] Tindall, [David] Flatman, [Iain] Balshaw and I think Alex Sanderson would have been the same age as Steve so there was a massive nucleus. We watched Steve play for that England team against Scotland at Preston Grasshoppers that year in the April and following that, he got selected to go on the Australian tour.

"I think they were undefeated there and obviously he went and he came back, and you could see he had just absorbed everything that was thrown at him. You could see that desire, that hunger and that focus.

"He sort of tried to spread the word to be even more fit and even more focused. We also had a running joke that I used to say when we were running; 'I thought you'd beat me by more than that Steve!' After that he said; 'That was it!" He was always competitive and wanted to challenge himself!

"I think he said in one of his recent interviews he used to set himself targets that were unrealistic in terms of getting fit, but he thought a lot about that. It is that professionalism that helped him have a long playing career and he's probably devolving that down to the people he is coaching now and leading by example I guess."

But despite constantly exuding this model of professionalism and maintaining a steely focus, in Rawthorne's view, Borthwick has always put everybody else first and never forgets the experiences which have helped him on his journey.

"He has time for everybody," Rawsthorne adds. "He is a very humble man. I'm in touch with him, speak to him occasionally. I've visited him at Leicester, visited him at Saracens, visited him when he was at Bath and visited him when he played for England so I have been very fortunate in that respect to maintain that communication and relationship.

"It's funny because if we message or something, if he doesn't get back to you, the next time you see him he is always apologetic. He doesn't need to do that but that is the man himself.

"He is also very reflective on his time at school and that actually gives you an insight into what kind of rugby coach he is. He talks highly of a lot of his teachers who have supported him and he uses a lot, or has used some, of their ideas in his job today! He remembers his geography teacher and I remember him saying he remembers the classroom and the environment she created made it a great place to learn and he has used that in his own similar planning!"

Rawsthorne also recalls an assembly at Hutton that Borthwick attended not long after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He was asked about the moment he first led out his nation at Twickenham as captain, with Rawsthorne admitting "you could hear a pin drop in the hall" due to Borthwick's genuine emotion and pride in his storytelling.

Borthwick has also "always supported the school with signed shirts" and Rawsthorne reiterates why this particular principle of always thinking about others is one of the many strong qualities England now has in their head coach.

"When I went down to Leicester last year to see him, obviously the feeling around the club and just seeing his impact on what he has achieved there was something to behold really," Rawsthorne continues.

"We were lucky enough to go to one of the games. There was a Q&A with one of the past players and a lot of people were asking questions about him and a lot of what I've talked about came out in terms of his qualities of humility, his qualities of how he instills a belief and an expectation of himself and how that is instilled into other people."

Rawsthorne can already see signs of Borthwick moulding England into his own vision: "That is his squad!" he laughs. "That is my answer! He knows what is right for England. His detail and research into what he thinks are the right calls, the right decisions is how he has developed as a coach since he stopped playing and we saw that at Leicester and I can't see that changing."

England are now almost ready to begin their new adventure under Borthwick and his first year in charge will culminate with a World Cup in France.

When a new head coach comes in, no one can predict whether they will be a success or a failure but one thing is for sure, Borthwick's character and his approach to the task in hand has remained the same since his time at Hutton.

And for Rawsthorne, that can only help England achieve their desired grade in this upcoming Six Nations: "You see people who are destined for all sorts of leadership roles in life as you go through 40 years of school teaching and in terms of sport, Steven is, and continues to be, a leading light there."