Steve Borthwick claims he will return England to ELITE status

Steve Borthwick launched his England regime on Monday with a stark message about the scale of the salvage operation – to transform a national team lacking world-class qualities, while working against the clock.

The new head coach was duly unveiled at Twickenham, two weeks after Eddie Jones’s fate was sealed following a dire autumn Test campaign.

There was no sugar-coating what Borthwick and sidekick Kevin Sinfield are up against, as they seek to revive England in time for the Six Nations, starting with a home Calcutta Cup clash on February 4.

Steve Borthwick has replaced Eddie Jones as England’s new head coach on a five-year deal

‘It’s 47 days until we play Scotland here at Twickenham,’ said Borthwick. ‘Right now, if you look at the autumn series, I don’t think England are ranked in the top three in any one facet of the game. So there are plenty of things to work on and get right.’

This was a role he has had designs on for some time, but the best-laid succession plans for a post-World Cup ascension were hurriedly accelerated by the shock sacking of Jones. 

Suddenly, Borthwick had to weigh up whether it was the right job at the wrong time. 

‘There was certainly a consideration of the timing,’ he said. ‘I don’t think anyone thinks the timing is ideal.’

Borthwick spoke with conviction and passion. ‘I care deeply about the England rugby team,’ he said. ‘I was the guy who said, at 14, ‘I want to play for England’.

Borthwick was quick to admit that the timing of his appointment now is far from 'ideal'

Borthwick was quick to admit that the timing of his appointment now is far from ‘ideal’

‘I remember it because you can become a member of the gym at 14.    

‘I used to set myself ridiculous targets on the rowing machine or whatever. I would say, “If you don’t make this target, you’ll never get to play for England”.’

When he was asked if, as a proud Englishman, it hurt him to see the team struggle of late – with six losses in their last 12 Tests – Borthwick said: ‘The thing that strikes me is how much the players are hurting. They want the supporters and the nation to be proud of the team.’

Sinfield will be a major asset and Borthwick has been assured by the RFU that they will back him to assemble a formidable management team. 

The new head coach is ready to look outside of the country, if necessary, to bring in the best possible assistants.

Kevin Sinfield has also joined the England set-up under Borthwick as the new defence coach

Kevin Sinfield has also joined the England set-up under Borthwick as the new defence coach

There was confirmation of a ‘clean slate’ in terms of selection, although Borthwick is limited to just five changes to the wider EPS squad next month, so he will have to ponder any personnel overhaul carefully, with a view to a step-by-step process. 

Meanwhile, the primary objective in the short term will be to ensure England re-establish control and command of the staple contests up front.

‘For England to win Test matches, we’ve got to make sure the forward pack has a set-piece platform they can build from,’ said Borthwick. But does he have the players for that? ‘I think so, but it’s not going to be an overnight fix,’ he added.

What shone through on Monday was that Borthwick will bring a personal touch to the momentous job – perhaps more so than would have been imagined. 

He is acclaimed as a meticulous, dedicated planner and strategist, but he also spoke about less familiar elements of his repertoire.

Jones was relieved of his duties as head coach earlier this month after a disappointing 2022

Jones was relieved of his duties as head coach earlier this month after a disappointing 2022

‘I love winning,’ he said. ‘The other thing I love about coaching is I really like helping people. I really care for the people I coach. I realised that early on in my coaching career.

‘I was captain at Saracens and coaching Japan. We were playing in Romania and we won. We hadn’t won in Europe in 20-odd attempts, and I made a small difference.

‘I was only there coaching a week. The joy of those players dancing on the pitch, cheering, jumping up and down with each other – that brought me incredible joy.     

‘I was very happy sitting in the stands just watching them. If I can help people experience highs like that it brings me a lot of joy.’

He dismissed suggestions that he will be Eddie Jones Mk II, saying: ‘I’ll coach this team my way.’

His sons weren’t immediately overjoyed when he told them he was leaving Leicester. Hunter, nine, told him to pick a lot of Tigers – and to poach flanker Tommy Reffell from Wales. Borthwick can’t help with that, but he promised to find an England-themed toy to sit next to the tiger on seven-year-old Chase’s bed.

That is the only way anything about this regime will be soft and cuddly. Borthwick is ready to turn England into a tough, aggressive, fearsome force again.

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