Borthwick’s England is taking small steps towards their goal of playing with a brave and confident attitude.
Upon Jamie George’s arrival in Rome, he, being an avid cricket enthusiast, engaged in a conversation about the benefits of Bazball and how it could potentially be implemented in the England team, which he now leads. With a playful tone, he jokingly proposed attempting a drop goal within the first two minutes of the game against Italy, comparing it to hitting a six over the wicketkeeper’s head.
It can be stated that this did not happen during England’s three-point win against Italy, causing observers to question if there has been significant improvement since the World Cup. The upcoming game against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday adds to the uncertainty.
George Ford is accurate in stating that the scoreboard is deceiving because England had control of the game after taking the lead early in the second half and successfully finishing the match with their conservative approach that led them to the World Cup semi-finals. However, it is concerning that they did not appear to have any chance of scoring a bonus point for four tries.
Ford mentioned that England’s strategy was to play with fewer than 1,000m kicks, which was previously their goal. He also noted that this has been the biggest change in mindset for the current team. This is a valid evaluation of the first half, especially with his successful connections with Slade, Daly, and Freeman. However, the concern is that, aside from Daly’s try, their performance was not very intimidating against a team that consistently ranks at the bottom.
In their journey towards improving their cricket skills, the team has taken small steps towards their fellow players. Surprisingly, it is their new defensive strategy that has caught the attention of Bazball. Felix Jones, a former Springbok player known for his aggressive defense, has joined the team with much praise. As Slade put it simply, “It’s much more aggressive.” While it may not be a groundbreaking tactic, it is a new one for the England team to learn. As expected, there were some initial challenges, such as giving away offside penalties and missing 19 tackles. This led to Italy scoring impressive tries, which could be attributed to England’s lack of defensive structure.
Listen to Steve Borthwick and his players explain their reaction going 10-0 down, however, and there is reason for optimism according to his risk versus reward approach. “There are going to be times when you make a mistake, there is an opportunity then to take a little bit of a step back but the challenge then is to go even harder and push even harder,” Borthwick said. Ford added: “The main thing is calming everyone down and saying ‘mistakes happen’ but we can’t then not commit again for the rest of the game. We’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to keep committing to it.”
George delivered a comparable message prior to the game and later mentioned a culture of fearing failure that had previously been present. This was something that Eddie Jones, who was in attendance at the Stadio Olimpico, undoubtedly played a part in, but it was something that he was unable to remedy. Jones often referred to it as “hand grenades in the back of a Jeep”.
“That has certainly been the situation in the past,” stated George. “When Steve and I had met a few weeks before, we were discussing that topic. I don’t believe it is a risk, rather it is about having the bravery to carry out the gameplan to the best of our abilities.”
In the past, Borthwick shares a similar perspective. He recalls playing on teams where players were afraid of making mistakes for fear of not being chosen for the next game. Borthwick strives to create a culture where players can fully dedicate themselves to the team’s goals without fear of criticism, and he trusts them to do so.
When considering these factors, we can see the similarities between Bazball and cricketers, although there are some limitations. While Bazball focuses on vibes, Borthball relies heavily on data. According to Borthwick, after the World Cup, our ranking in terms of line speed was third, depending on which rankings are taken into account. This was determined by how frequently we were able to stop the attack two metres behind the gain line.
“South Africa and Japan were ranked as the top two, but we are striving to enhance our performance in that region. There may be some errors at this moment, but I will continue to provide motivation.”