Borthwick is facing the challenge of leading England while the team is under pressure.
England begins the new year with bronze medals around their necks, making them the only team from the Six Nations to bring home a tangible reward from the Rugby World Cup. While their success may be questioned due to the controversial draw that benefited them, they still had to win their matches. Their only loss was by a single point to the eventual champions, in a game where they could have easily emerged victorious.
During his initial press conference of the year, Steve Borthwick proudly announced their success and how it sets the stage for the future. The head coach also praised the impressive performances of English clubs during the first two rounds of Europe before the holiday season. The upcoming weeks will provide more insight on this matter.
Until now, things seem to be going well, but upon closer inspection, there are still issues present in the system. The yearly evaluation of potential members for the team shows both strengths and weaknesses, with a particular challenge being the role of prop this time. It appears that all three looseheads from the previous World Cup squad may not be able to participate in the beginning of the Six Nations, as Bevan Rodd will be unavailable for the entire tournament.
However, it is the absences of players due to reasons other than injury that suggest underlying issues. Four members of England’s World Cup team are unable to compete in the championship because they are contracted with French clubs. Additionally, there is the matter of captain Owen Farrell, who has chosen not to participate.
These problems have an impact on the global rugby scene. The captain of France’s team will also be absent. Antoine Dupont has decided to join the France sevens team as they get ready for the Paris Olympics. The reasoning behind Farrell’s departure – and it is uncertain if he will come back to the England team or remain with Saracens – is unclear. However, for those of us who are less concerned with saying the appropriate things, we can confidently categorize his reasons as “not worth the trouble.”
The value of certain aspects will likely be heavily discussed in future conversations about the England team. The most recent eight-year deal between the union, clubs, and players is coming to an end this summer, and negotiations are ongoing between all involved parties. Currently, England players receive a payment of £23,000 per match; however, there are talks of a new elite player squad arrangement where a selected group of 25 players would receive £150,000 each. While this may provide some security for those chosen, it could be seen as a decrease in pay for players accustomed to playing a full season of England matches.
According to reports, Lewis Ludlam has reportedly agreed to a deal with Toulon, potentially making him the fifth member of the World Cup squad to leave English rugby and the England team. Borthwick commented on the situation, stating that the criteria for eligibility clearly states that players must be based in England.
I am committed to developing a system that encourages players to remain in England and represent the national team. The experience of playing for England should be both exciting and fulfilling. I am optimistic that those currently playing abroad will return, as I have expressed my desire for them to do so. Joe Marchant is aware of my wish for him to come back.
Borthwick mentioned that he visited Paris in an attempt to persuade Henry Arundell to come back to England, but was unsuccessful. It seems Arundell is eager to participate in the upcoming World Cup and has promised Borthwick he will return the season before. Only time will tell.
The sport of rugby in England is not accustomed to this situation. Other unions have dealt with it in the past and it is intriguing to observe how each has attempted, with limited success, to address the issue of top players being lured to more profitable, domestic leagues. England still has their “exceptional circumstances” rule regarding the eligibility of players who compete abroad, but it appears they may have to expand it to incorporate complicated regulations like Australia’s well-known “Giteau’s law” or Wales’s even more intricate “Gatland’s law”.
As the influence of stronger commercial players from other countries grows, England may begin to feel the effects. This could also impact the overall standing of rugby in the international sports world. Rugby union is one of the few sports that relies heavily on its international game for commercial success, apart from cricket which is also undergoing changes. After almost thirty years of professionalism, this dynamic may be changing.
The majority of sports focus on their local competitions, which occur on a weekly basis. International competitions are more of a rare treat.
It is challenging to imagine how this situation will unfold, as English clubs face the risk of closure and the French exert their dominance in a more forceful manner. It is certain that the financial stability of various unions is also being strained.
Borthwick’s statement about striving to make England a desirable destination for his top players to come back to was admirable and optimistic. However, the statistics eventually affect us all. Even though England has achieved numerous bronze medals, witnessing their struggles can be unsettling for those who are attached to traditional methods, yet also intriguing.