Borthwick putting Leicester Tigers first amid England head coach links

Save Borthwick led Leicester Tigers to their 11th English domestic title
©Leicester Tigers

Linked to the vacant England head coaching role, Leicester Tigers boss Steve Borthwick maintains that he is focussing on his current duties ahead of the opening round of the Heineken Champions Cup.

Since England dismissed Eddie Jones as head coach of the men’s national team following a poor Autumn Nations Series campaign, Leicester Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick has been the man most talked about as replacing the Australian.

Serving under Jones as an assistant coach with Japan and England for eight years, the former England, Bath and Saracens captain has certainly had a coaching education.

Taking charge of Leicester in 2020 in order to test himself as the leading man, it has been a fruitful time for the Cumbrian who took the side to a Gallagher Premiership title earlier this year and a Challenge Cup final in 2021.

In the hours that followed Jones’ sacking, Leicester postponed their press call with Borthwick as reports intensified as to the RFU’s pursuit of the 43-year-old. As things stood heading into the call, it was suggested that Tigers and the Rugby Football Union are at a stalemate.

The powers that be at Mattioli Woods Welford Road are holding out for £500,000 for their head coach, while the RFU are only offering £200,000 and a resolution any time soon looks unlikely. It will be more a case of who blinks first, with England having nine games until the Rugby World Cup in France and the need to fill the considerable void left by Jones a necessity.

To begin the press call Leicester Tigers reiterated that there was “absolutely no comment” in regard to Borthwick’s immediate future, his duty this week being to start their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a win against the Ospreys on Sunday afternoon.

Facing continuous questions surrounding his immediate future in the East Midlands, Borthwick maintains that he is sat on the Zoom call “to talk about Leicester Tigers”, unwilling to hint at whether he will still be an employee of the club in a week’s time.

“We play the Ospreys on Sunday night, that’s my focus and that’s what I’m here to talk about,” Borthwick said. 

“We play the Ospreys on Sunday at 17:30 and that is what I am focused upon and that is what my team is focused upon and that is what we have been focused upon all week.”

In some ways, the line of questioning is as a result of Borthwick’s own success. Taking charge of Leicester partway through the 2019/20 season, the club would finish 11th in the Gallagher Premiership.

A year later, they climbed up the table and were runners-up in the Challenge Cup, a year after and the side were English champions. Beating Saracens 15-12 in the Premiership final thanks to a last-gasp Freddie Burns drop goal, it was the team’s 11th domestic title and a massive indicator of how much work Borthwick has done in a relatively short space of time.

Returning one of English rugby’s biggest clubs back to glory, Borthwick’s role for arresting their slide, adding his distinct imprint on the side and turning things around in such a significant way, it shows exactly why the RFU will want Borthwick to lead England at the Rugby World Cup next year and potentially longer.

“Yeah, Eddie and I have spoken this week,” Borthwick said.

That is hardly a surprise. For eight years, the pair worked closely with one another as coaches with Japan and then England, Jones bringing in Borthwick as his first hire as England’s head coach, the Englishman having initially committed to being an assistant coach with Bristol Bears in the Championship.

Nurtured by Jones, on paper Borthwick is the perfect man for the job. He has been the archetypal student, the Australian first coming across a lock forward while a technical advisor with Saracens, where the Tigers boss concluded his playing career.

Simply put, Borthwick has excelled at everything he has ever done. He captained Bath, Sarries, England and it would not be a surprise if it turned out that he was head boy at Hutton Grammar School.

“There’s a huge number of them and we would be here all day if I tried to talk you through all of them,” Borthwick said when asked about what characteristics Jones has passed onto him this past decade.

“I could talk about the work ethic, the desire to learn, the never ceasing wanting to be better and improve. The desire to improve the players, help them achieve their dreams. I could talk about all those things.

“What I’ll actually talk about, which is the generosity of the guy, that whenever a coach asks a question, whenever I’ve heard a coach ask a question, I have seen him help people from all around the world, because we all try to coach as well as we can and help this great game.

“He loves the game, an incredible coach.”

What disruption this has caused to Leicester this week will be seen on Sunday afternoon. All week Borthwick’s future has been up for debate everywhere you could look, as are the futures of Kevin Sinfield [defence coach], Richard Wigglesworth [attack coach & player] and Aled Walters [head of physical performance], who many believe could follow their head coach to Twickenham. 

“Right from when I started, I have always believed to be very upfront with the players,” Borthwick said. “I am always upfront with them about anything and everything.

“In terms of preparation, because I keep being asked about preparation, because I keep being asked about preparation for this week; well, this club and this team has had all kind of challenges in terms of preparation over the last two years.

“We’ve had a lot of potential obstacles and one thing I think these players have been great at is any tome anything possibly could try and distract us, the team concentrates on its performance in that week and that’s what we have continues to do.”