Andy Bull reports that Borthwick has officially begun his role as England’s coach, leading a team that is still in its early stages.
Even though they may not have been the most attractive or charming team, this England squad still managed to achieve success. They did not have a dominant performance against the All Blacks or score a dramatic try against Australia. They also did not win the World Cup with a last-minute drop goal. However, after their final game against Argentina at the Stade de France, they were content and proud of their accomplishments over the past few weeks. They were ready to celebrate their victories and defeats as a team.
Reworded: Six days prior, England had a nine-point lead with only 12 minutes remaining in the semi-final match against South Africa. Despite the pain of what transpired, the players who will not have another opportunity are mature and truthful enough to acknowledge that their team was not quite capable of securing the win. On the other hand, the players who will have another chance now have a better understanding of what is required to succeed. This team displayed determination, intelligence, and strong set pieces with a defiant attitude. They reached a fair point in their journey, and even further according to fans of Ireland and France who jeered them during Friday’s game.
If you had witnessed your team’s performance over the last four years, you would understand the frustration of facing New Zealand or South Africa in top form during the quarter-finals, while England had an easier path. However, in Test rugby, nothing is guaranteed and everything must be earned.
The tournament that England went through was a prize for their success in the years 2019 and 2020, where they ranked as the second-best team in the world. This could be seen as a farewell present from Eddie Jones, who likely wanted to experience it himself before his departure. The settlement cost of £800,000 paid by the Rugby Football Union was well worth it.
Jones’s experience in the World Cup with Australia served as a valuable reminder that no matter how effortless a match may seem, it is crucial to defeat the team standing in your way. England successfully achieved this in six out of seven games.
In the last eight weeks, they were able to win the same number of matches as they did in the entire previous year leading up to the tournament. During that time, their record was 15 games played, six wins, eight losses, and one draw. Just 84 days ago, they suffered a loss of 20-9 to Wales in Cardiff. It has been 63 days since their first ever defeat by Fiji at Twickenham. Despite starting the tournament as the third-ranked team on their own island, they ended up finishing as the third-best team in the World Cup.
The RFU will not see a significant increase in downloads based on their performance during the weeks in between. Some notable moments include George Ford’s drop goal against Argentina, Henry Arundell’s five tries against Chile, Ford’s second drop goal against Argentina, Courtney Lawes’ try against Japan from a mishandled pass that bounced off Joe Marler’s face, Ford’s third drop goal against Argentina, Danny Care’s game-winning score in the 73rd minute against Samoa (who were playing with one less player), and Owen Farrell’s drop goal against the Springboks. It will be challenging to make all of these moments appealing to the TikTok generation.
There is much to appreciate about them, despite everything. It was evident in how Ford took control of the match against Argentina, his best Test yet, and then graciously stepped aside for his good friend Farrell when he was ready to play again.
Dan Cole and Marler showed their dominance against the Springbok scrum and came out victorious. Care made an impressive tap-tackle on Neria Fomai in the final minute against Samoa, and even joked afterward that he had to do it after celebrating his try like Alan Shearer in front of the Gallowgate End. The intense tackling of George Martin and the powerful runs of Ben Earl from the scrum also contributed to the team’s overall performance.
Steve Borthwick exemplified composure and resilience when he stepped up to take on the challenging role thrust upon him by the RFU executives in December. Despite being given a tough task of leading the team with only eight months left before the tournament, which he had been preparing for over three years, Borthwick remained calm and collected.
Regrettably for Borthwick, his designated role, the one he was always intended to fulfill, begins at this moment. England has reached this stage by employing a straightforward and successful approach designed for tournament rugby. This primarily consisted of the clever tactic of kicking the ball away whenever they had possession and then tackling with utmost determination.
Label it as a clever tactic. It almost succeeded against the Springboks, but in Test rugby, things change quickly. Even now, experts will be studying it and devising strategies to counter it. Coaches Warren Gatland, Gregor Townsend, and Andy Farrell will have their plans in place for the upcoming Six Nations tournament.
England, led by Borthwick, will have to demonstrate that they possess additional capabilities and can surpass the boundaries of their current system. They must also achieve this without key players like Ben Youngs and Lawes, as well as other long-standing team members such as Cole and Marler. Additionally, it may be a challenge without the likes of Manu Tuilagi and Jamie George, who were part of a cohort that narrowly missed being among the world’s top performers.
However, now that several weeks have passed in France, it is finally feasible to observe a fresh development within the team after four years. Players such as Earl, Martin, Theo Dan, Alex Mitchell, Marcus Smith, and Freddie Steward are showing potential for growth.
One team from England has completed their journey in this World Cup, while another is just beginning.