Six Nations: England opens new period with Steve Borthwick

FILE - The new England Rugby Union coach Steve Borthwick poses for the photographers during a photocall at Twickenham Stadium in London, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. The 2023 Six Nations starts on Feb. 4. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

FILE – The brand new England Rugby Union coach Steve Borthwick poses for the photographers throughout a photocall at Twickenham Stadium in London, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. The 2023 Six Nations begins on Feb. 4. (AP Photograph/Alastair Grant, File)


A look at England’s rugby team ahead of the Six Nations starting on Feb. 4:


COACH: Steve Borthwick (1st 6N)

CAPTAIN: Owen Farrell

2022 SIX NATIONS: 3rd

BEST SIX NATIONS RESULT: Champion 2000, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2020

OUTLOOK: After seven years under Eddie Jones, England is facing a race against time to adapt to a new coach and a new style of play before the Rugby World Cup begins in September. Steve Borthwick will have to work miracles, then, to get the English into a position to win the Six Nations within two months of taking over as Jones’ successor. He’ll likely go back to basics to do so. Borthwick, who was captaining England in the Six Nations just 14 years ago, is pretty much everything Jones isn’t — understated, empathetic, realistic . . . oh, and English. Yet, they do share a common trait when it comes to attention to detail, and Borthwick has offered a view on why England had lost its way by the end of Jones’ reign, which didn’t survive much beyond a 27-13 pumping by South Africa in November. “The reality is,” Borthwick said, “in those games in the autumn series when the pressure really came on, when things went wrong or got challenged, the England team did not have the clarity to move forward.” Borthwick’s objective will be to simplify England’s gameplan, especially up front where the scrum has to improve and the lineout should also tighten up under a coach who saw those facets as his bread and butter in 57 games for his country. Borthwick’s first squad selection shows he will pick on form — there were five uncapped players in his enlarged 37-man squad — and he will hope the team enjoys playing with more freedom now the shackles of the Jones era are off. A home loss to old foe Scotland in round one would leave Borthwick in a tough early predicament, however, with a tournament finish of Wales away, France at home and Ireland away not for the faint-hearted.

KEY PLAYER: Owen Farrell has prepped for the Six Nations by going back to school. In his case, tackle school. That Farrell, England’s 31-year-old captain, needed to attend a tackling intervention clinic run by World Rugby a month before a Six Nations and at the start of a Rugby World Cup year highlights the lingering concerns around his technique that go back years and which reared its head after he was banned for three matches for a dangerous tackle he committed on club duty with Saracens. He says he has learnt his lesson — “What it does is it makes you look at what you can do better” — but that will be put to the test in the cauldron of the Six Nations, where he will be under the spotlight more than ever. Where will he play — at flyhalf or at inside center? Borthwick has given little away but it’s one of his biggest decisions early in his reign, and one that might dictate how England will set about challenging for the World Cup in a curtailed buildup under a new coach. Marcus Smith is more of a playmaking No. 10 whereas Farrell would be a more pragmatic choice, and possibly be better for a kick-chase approach Borthwick might go with. Borthwick had no hesitation making Farrell captain for the Six Nations. It’s time for Farrell to repay the trust.

QUOTE: “I want to help these young guys not make the mistakes I made. When they’re old and have no hair like me, I want them to not have regrets. I don’t want them looking back thinking, ‘I wish I’d done that or I could have done that.’ So let’s do it.” England coach Steve Borthwick



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This story was initially printed January 27, 2023, 12:57 PM.

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