Joe Harvey Column – First outing as England boss proved why Steve Borthwick is perfect man for the job

Steve Borthwick was confirmed as England's new head coach on Monday
©David Howlett

It was the morning before Steve Borthwick was revealed at Twickenham Stadium as England’s head coach, that we learned a little more about the 43-year-old from two of his former teammates.

In that article I spoke to Lee Mears and Jacques Burger, the pair nothing short of glowing about the former lock forward, who at that time was the odds on favourite to get the England job following the sacking of his mentor, Eddie Jones, less than two weeks prior.

Mears described Borthwick as ‘the epitome of work ethic’, while Burger described his former teammate as an ‘example’ to all those around him at Saracens. Later that Sunday, the RFU sent a media advisory outlining that they would be announcing the England head coach.

It was there we got a first glimpse of this new England side. The Rugby Football Union’s Chief Executive Officer, Bill Sweeney, described it as a “new era” for England and it’s not hard to see why.

Admittedly we have been subjected to a number of these new taglines, but with a new coach at the top of the tree, it is hard to disagree. Under Jones things had grown stale and although it was denied, the relationship between the Australian and the RFU top brass seemed to have been strained.

Sweeney would also confirm that Borthwick was always England’s first choice to take on the role following next year’s Rugby World Cup in France. Having first made contact with Leicester Tigers all the way back in August, the process was merely sped up to bring in a former captain and assistant coach of five years into the fray.

There was little wonder as to why. Having learnt the ropes of Test match rugby as a player and then an assistant coach under Eddie Jones for eight years before taking on the Leicester Tigers job, an ailing club at the time, the Cumbrian continued to excel and took the side back to the top of the Gallagher Premiership.

A real concern among the press gathered in West London was how Borthwick would be with the media. Over several hours, those concerns were dashed as the Cumbrian spoke about his memories of playing for England, looking to get that Twickenham roar back and even discussed how he discussed with his family the prospect of coaching England.

But aside from those topics, Borthwick was honest. He acknowledged that it was going to be a tough start to his tenure as England boss, with less than 50 days standing between him and the opening game of the Guinness Six Nations and limited time with his players, it is certainly an uphill battle.

Winning a domestic title during his two and a half years with Leicester Tigers, Borthwick was in many ways opposite to Jones. He would take one game at a time and not deflect questioning by talking about winning a Rugby World Cup in over a years’ time as results on the field at the present were well off the pace.

Among other things, Borthwick promised to look at every player in England to create the best squad possible, the best coaching staff and to lead in his own way. He promised honesty - another bonus – and to coach England with the same passion he has always shown.

“As a leader and a coach, there’s two big things,” Borthwick said. “I’m going to lead in a very authentic way. I know from conversations we’ve had over a number of years that I come across in a certain way.

“I know my personality. I promise you I’ll lead in a real, authentic way. I love winning. I love winning. Every game matters. The other thing I really love about coaching and the way I lead; is I really like helping people. I really care for the people I coach.

“The players I’ve coached at Leicester in the last two years, I really care about. I take a huge amount of joy in their happiness.

“I realised that really early on in my coaching career. I was captain at Saracens and coaching Japan. We were playing in Romania and we won [34-23]. We hadn’t won in Europe in 20-odd attempts, and I made that small difference.

“I was only there coaching a week. The joy of those players dancing on the pitch, cheering, jumping up and down on the pitch with each other – that brought me incredible joy. I was very happy sat in the stands watching them.

“If I can help people experience highs like that it brings me a lot of joy. I love winning. I really like helping people.”

There was a sense of bitterness when Leicester Tigers announced that Borthwick and defence coach, Kevin Sinfield, were departing Mattioli Woods Welford Road some 20 minutes before the RFU made their unveiling, the East Midlands club fully aware of what they are losing and what England will be gaining.

Borthwick had battled questions for weeks about his future, and after shaking the hands of those at his later media briefing, apologised for having been so evasive. It was difficult not to be dazzled and, for one, I was.

Stating that the opening game of the Six Nations would be imperfect and that it would not even be a complete side, it was refreshing. Then to send that very clear message of wanting to hear Twickenham roar and to inspire the next generation in the same way he was, the 43-year-old hit all the right notes.

With any change at the top, that fresh start will instantly breed optimism. There must also be an understanding that England will need time to get their ducks in a row as Borthwick gets his squad together and to establish a strong set-piece which similarly took Tigers up the Premiership.

As of today, there are 43 days between England and the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland. There is work still to be done, but you ask yourself whether the powers that be have put England in the best place possible to be successful, the answer is yes.”