England’s new head rugby coach, Steve Borthwick, says his players are “hurting” as a consequence of poor recent results under his predecessor, Eddie Jones, and has vowed to channel that pain into a strong Six Nations campaign.
The 43-year-old Borthwick was confirmed in the role at Twickenham on Monday, signing a five-year contract after leaving Leicester Tigers, with Kevin Sinfield also departing Welford Road to become England’s defense coach. Borthwick is planning to recruit the rest of his backroom team in the coming weeks.
The former second-row’s contract is set to run until after the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia but his priority is to prepare for the Six Nations, with England starting their campaign against Scotland at Twickenham on 4 February.
“The thing that strikes me is how much the players are hurting,” Borthwick said. “I know how much they are hurting because they care, they really care, they want to do well. What we need to do is make sure the pain they are feeling, we transform that from the start of the Six Nations, and put everything we have into the performances on the pitch.”
Before joining Leicester, where he won the Premiership last season, Borthwick worked as a forwards coach with England’s senior side under Jones and also worked with the Australian for Japan’s national team leading up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Borthwick’s playing career included 10 years at Bath and six seasons with Saracens. He became England captain in 2008, when Martin Johnson was head coach. He won 57 international caps and played nearly 400 domestic games before returning from playing in 2014.
Borthwick said his appointment coming so close to the World Cup was not ideal but that on reflection he felt the time was right.
“I put deep thought into things and I looked at all the different factors,” he said. That was certainly a consideration of the timing, I don’t think anyone thinks the timing is ideal. I also think there is an incredible excitement around this among the players. I think the potential of the team is enormous. There are certainly some things that need to be acted on…but with the amount of potential [we have] it is exciting.”
After introducing Borthwick in his new role, meanwhile, the RFU chief executive, Bill Sweeney, insisted he has not considered his own position following the decision to dismiss Jones so late in the World Cup cycle.
Asked if he is the man to lead English rugby, Sweeney said: “I love this job. I think it’s a privilege to do it. It can be quite demanding at times… I believe I’ve got the full backing of the board. That’s not my decision to make, if somebody else thinks differently…
“He [the RFU chair Tom Ilube] said something recently about the full backing of the executive. So I’ll take that as his confidence.”
Sweeney also said the decision to replace Jones had been based purely on results, and denied that his personal relationship with Jones had become a problem. “The decision and the conversation with the review panel was all about performance on the field of play,” Sweeney said. “Having said that, you don’t want to hear booms at Twickenham. No one likes to lose and fans are critically important to us.”
On the potential makeup of Borthwick’s backroom team, Sweeney said: “Within the confines of a certain reasonableness, we back him in terms of what he wants to do.”
Following the Scotland Six Nations opener, England meets Italy at Twickenham eight days later, before a trip to Wales on 25 February. On 11 March Borthwick’s side face France at home, before a closing trip to Dublin on 18 March.
On Monday, in an interview with the French newspaper Midi Olympique, Jones revealed he feared his sacking was imminent during the recent autumn internationals.
Referring to a meeting with RFU officials before the draw against New Zealand at Twickenham last month, Jones said: “I had a sense that the atmosphere was bizarre… I had a sense that the end was in sight.”