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Rugby union – Steve Borthwick picks his first England squad for the Six Nations

To this observer the announcement yesterday of new England head coach Steve Borthwick’s first-ever squad for the annual Six Nations contained a satisfying mix of  “safe and secure” senior players, this season’s in-form Premiership notables (both experienced and new) and one or two “outsiders who could make rapid progress enough to feature”.

See here, courtesy of – RUGBY WORLD

First and foremost, the most important thing about it is that it is not an Eddie Jones selection – for good or ill, the Jones reign is over, done and dusted. A line in the sand has been drawn and he is history as far as England is concerned.

It didn’t surprise me in the slightest that Australia has now picked him up, just weeks after being axed the England job – from their point of view, just in time to give them some sort of “kick” and/or edge at the coming Rugby World Cup.

Jones’s talent as a coach is undeniable, but he is also an iconoclastic maverick who eschews structure and plans (except perhaps when he’s explaining either success or failure to the sporting media) … and, when you hire Eddie, you get both.

For me, in his playing heyday, Steve Borthwick was a no-nonsense solid international – but not world class – lock with a good head on his shoulders.

He first showed coaching potential when appointed as “head caller and operator” at England line-outs and his obsessive attention to detail soon became a subject of tales if not legend. Few work harder.

He has already demonstrated his potential international coach quality during his shortish spell at Leicester Tigers culminating with their Premiership victory last season. England fans should give him a fair “go” before rushing to judgement.

Once Jones was in the departure lounge, Borthwick has got it right in immediately “clearing out the stable” of the Jones pick of coaching staff.

He needs to have his own men with him. I’m a fan of Kevin Sinfield, the former Rugby League great and now defence coach.

Rather like Owen Farrell’s father Andy did in 1995, Sinfield has moved across to Rugby Union steeped in all things rugby, regardless of the code being played.

I’m less convinced about Borthwick’s swiftly-negotiated arrangement with Harlequins to second in former All Black Nick Evans as a part-time attacking guru. I’m not doubting Evans’s credentials – had he not been an exact contemporary of the nonpareil fly half Dan Carter, he might have had seven to ten years as an All Black and about 70 caps, rather than the measly 16 he amassed before moving to the UK at the age of 28.

My concern is that – given Owen Farrell is continuing as England captain and will presumably start at 10 – outside the pack, this term England are going to be playing the Owen Farrell way and I don’t quite see what elements Evans – now steeped in the Harlequins traditions of unpredictability and “giving it a go” – can bring to the party.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not championing the Quins way of playing – when you’re trying to win a tournament (and England’s priorities this year are two, the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup) “throwing structure to the winds” is hardly best calculated in percentage terms to give you the control and dominance required to squeeze out the sometimes tight, “knock out” victories required.

Elsewhere, rugby union’s current general crisis for the hapless RFU continues to feature the sporting headlines.

Overnight the House of Commons Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport Select Committee has issued a report condemning both the RFU and Premiership for almost by neglect allowing England’s elite professional rugby at club level to become financially unsustainable – see here – BBC SPORT

The RFU and England set-up has in place a convention that players who plie their trade abroad are by definition ineligible for the national side. So why has the excellent Jack Wills – despite his credentials as an international class back forward – been included in Steve Borthwick’s England squad for the Six Nations when he is now a Toulouse player?

And can anyone explain to me why the RFU took refuge in a “sleight of hand” loop-hole in the disciplinary process in order to ensure Owen Farrell could play against Scotland in the first round of the Six Nations tournament on 4th February?

He was found guilty of an illegal high tackle in his most recent game for Saracens  – scarcely his first, historically he’s a persistent offender in this respect –  and therefore should have been given an automatic several-match ban from playing. Readers need not provide me with the answer – we know it was because the RFU wanted Mr Farrell on the pitch when the first blast of the whistle is blown.




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About Sandra McDonnell

As an Englishwoman married to a Scot, Sandra experiences some tension at home during Six Nations tournaments. Her enthusiasm for rugby was acquired through early visits to Fylde club matches with her father and her proud boast is that she has missed only two England home games at Twickenham since 1995. Sandra has three grown-up children, none of whom follow rugby. More Posts