Steve Borthwick: ‘We can’t keep letting teams have momentum late in games against us’

Steve Borthwick's England picked up their first win under the 43-year-old's leadership on Sunday
©INPHO/Tom Maher

After England’s 31-14 win over Italy in the Guinness Six Nations, Steve Borthwick believes his England side made significant steps forward following their loss to Scotland a week prior.

Picking up a maiden win under Borthwick on Sunday afternoon, England enjoyed an extremely dominant first half against Italy. 

Leading 19-0 at the break, the home side dominated Italy physically, but would not have a dominant 80 minutes in West London.

Breaking it down, and Italy won the second half 12-14. In some ways, England’s fade in the second half was similar to the fall off they experienced against Scotland a week earlier, as Gregor Townsend’s side picked up a third Calcutta Cup in as many years thanks to a late Duhan van der Merwe try.

Having had just a month with his England players, Borthwick and his coaching staff has had an extremely limited time to impress themselves on their charges. 

But while there is plenty of learning happening off the field, on it that decline in performance is something which was on the England coach’s mind on Sunday evening.

“Last week, at 20 minutes to go and eight points up, I would expect to win that game,” Borthwick said. “There was a another point we were four points up and we let it slip.

“As we move forward this team, as we coach and understand, we will be debriefing those things really fully, so we don’t let those opportunities slide.

“You can’t rewind the clock. I talked about my regrets as a player, and I don’t want these players to have regrets.

“We let one slip last weekend and we made sure we fully debriefed it to learn from it.

“This one, there was a period late in the game where we let momentum to get away from us.

“We can’t keep letting teams have momentum late in games against us. I really need to understand why it happened and why it happened.”

When asked what went wrong in the second half against Italy, Borthwick was unable to say definitively why Kieran Crowley’s side were able to get a foothold in the clash, while seeing growth in his group within the space of a week.

“Clearly we let them out of their half, which is exactly what happened last week,” the 43-year-old said. “Systems take time. 

“Against an Italy team that can move the ball and play a really dangerous brand of rugby, we saw significant steps forward in our defence.

“Our defence went forward, they hit. You could see our discipline improving, players rolling away. 

“When penalties are conceded the players are visibly annoyed with themselves to concede a penalty.

“Those are the habits we need to create. We need to build really good habits. I will analyse that.”

Through gaining good territory and gaining dominance at the set piece, England were able to subject their opponents to a miserable first half.

Ollie Lawrence was named as Player of the Match by the ITV commentators, the Bath centre having an extremely impressive performance outside Owen Farrell and making 80 meters from 11 carries.

While Lawrence earned those plaudits, Jack Willis was also extremely impressive in his first start for England since November 2020.

In the time since, the 26-year-old has recovered from a serious leg injury, as well as the collapse of his boyhood club, Wasps.

Now turning out for French giants Stade Toulousain, Willis was not considered for Selection in the Scotland loss because he had not been seen by the England coaches enough and certainly made up for lost time.

Replaces by Ben Earl after 52 minutes, Willis’ influence was certainly missed. Making 20 tackles, causing a turnover and scoring the game’s first try, it was a performance filled with much of desire.

“I rang Jack in my first week in the job,” Borthwick said. “He was out injured at the time, and I got a sense of his hunger to play for England.

“He came over and was able to take part in our training week but had to go back to Toulouse. He played and came back over.

“I couldn’t pick him for the first time because he hadn’t had as much time with the team.

“He went back and played for Toulouse again and he has come back and at that point I felt he had an understanding for what we were trying to do, and he did really well tonight.

“Toulouse have been incredibly supportive of Jack’s ambitions to play for England.”

Up next for England is Wales. Warren Gatland’s side have lost both of their Six Nations outings so far in 2023, and seemingly have a lot of work to do in the first fallow week.

Battered by Ireland in Cardiff and then Scotland in Murrayfield, it has been an unceremonious return for the New Zealander who returned to much fanfare.

For England they will be getting straight back onto the training field. With much to learn, there is plenty for the side still to do as they look to build positively from the Italy game.

Over the hump of getting a first win under new leadership, Wales and Gatland do not have that luxury.

There will be a underlying theme of desperation for Wales, something which turns them into a major threat, especially as the home side as the Principality Stadium.

“I look at Warren,” Borthwick said when asked about the clash in two weekends. “I have incredible respect for him as a coach.

“I had the opportunity to coach with him in 2017 and the way he coaches is superb, so I have a lot of respect for him.

“The fact he asked me to coach the Lions in 2021, he must think there is something I can do well as a coach.

“He will set up his team really well. It is a brilliant challenge. It is going to be a tough challenge.”