Borthwick believes that English rugby has made significant progress by appointing George as captain.
Steve Borthwick is increasingly resigned to Owen Farrell joining the growing number of players heading to France but believes English rugby has “turned a corner” after unveiling Jamie George as his new captain.
Borthwick disclosed that he had a conversation with Farrell, who is rumored to be transferring to Racing 92, the day before announcing his 36-man team for the Six Nations. He also confirmed that George will be taking over as captain. The 33-year-old hooker was reportedly close to finalizing a move to the Top 14 last year, but he has now signed a new two-year contract with Saracens. On Wednesday, he became the first player to publicly announce that he was offered an “enhanced” contract by the Rugby Football Union.
George, who serves as captain permanently, is accompanied by seven new members in the team, such as Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Ethan Roots from Exeter. However, prominent players Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola, who have been rumored to potentially leave for foreign teams after the season, are notably absent.
Courtney Lawes, Jonny May, Ben Youngs, and Mako Vunipola have all announced their retirement. Additionally, Henry Arundell, Jack Willis, David Ribbans, and Joe Marchant have all relocated to France and are therefore unavailable. This has led to a significant overhaul of the squad by coach Borthwick as the team prepares for the new World Cup cycle.
Last week, former captain Will Carling criticized English rugby, claiming that playing for Borthwick’s team was no longer the ultimate goal for players. He also called for changes to the structure of the sport. However, with George choosing to stay with England, Borthwick had a more positive outlook.
“He expressed that he believes it is a positive move and a good indication that English rugby is making progress, although there is still room for improvement. The positive attitude and performance of English rugby this season has been evident to all. It is significant to have the captain of England show his dedication to the team and the sport.”
“I had a conversation with Owen yesterday and I believe it is crucial for Owen to make a decision that best suits himself and his family. Will England regret losing a player as talented as Owen if he decides to play elsewhere? Absolutely. Would I like to see him return in the future? Yes. However, I also want him to prioritize his own happiness and create the experiences and memories that he desires for himself and his family.”
Regarding the anticipated departures of Sinckler and Vunipola, Borthwick stated: “I have three main points to make. Firstly, our system incentivizes players to stay and play rugby in this country, so they are not eager to leave. Secondly, we understand that players have limited careers and must make decisions accordingly – while we strive to keep them here, we respect their choices. Lastly, we are constantly preparing for any potential scenarios and planning for the future. Who will step up next? How can we develop them as efficiently as possible?”
George became the top candidate for the captain position after Farrell decided to not make himself available, Lawes retired, and Tom Curry was unable to play for the season due to injury. Ellis Genge was also a potential contender, but he is also dealing with a hamstring injury that may prevent him from playing in England’s first Six Nations match against Italy on February 3rd.
George is a well-liked and trusted member of the team. According to Borthwick, a survey called “network analysis” influenced the decision to hire George as the squad’s leader. The idea was inspired by Burnley manager Vincent Kompany. Borthwick mentioned that George may continue in this position until the 2027 World Cup.
“I believe he has excellent interpersonal skills,” stated Borthwick. “His outlook is consistently positive, and he always has a smile ready. I hope he will bring all of these qualities to his new role as captain. I have not set a specific timeline for this. If players take care of themselves and utilize the resources available through the elite player squad, we may see them playing longer.”
Borthwick remains optimistic about Genge’s ability to play against Italy and is also confident in the potential of Joe Marler, despite his biceps injury. Unfortunately, he has also had to deal with the loss of George Martin, who performed well in England’s World Cup semi-final loss to South Africa, due to a knee injury.