Preparing for the challenges of the Six Nations, England is organizing all of its business with Borthwick.
England will be traveling to Costa Brava in the upcoming week, but the warm weather is just one aspect of the trip. Although Steve Borthwick hopes his team can unwind at their luxurious training location in Girona, which is currently leading in La Liga, he also wants to prepare them for the specific challenges of the modern Six Nations Championship.
Borthwick, who thoroughly enjoys it, has been thoroughly examining the statistics and, even before a ball is kicked, believes he has identified the crucial factors that will determine the outcome of the championship. To give a hint: it will not solely rely on a team’s ability to execute fancy plays or individual skill. According to the head coach of England, the key battlegrounds will be the breakdown and the scrum, echoing the patterns seen in the elimination rounds of the recent World Cup.
England are not due to meet their two strongest opponents, Ireland and France, until the final two rounds in March but Borthwick will still be prepping his squad for an immediate step change from their weekly Premiership diet. While the pace and standard of the domestic league may be rising, Test rugby remains another ball game entirely.
One of the factors, according to Borthwick, is the officiating at major tournaments. The way the breakdown and scrum are refereed in international rugby differs from other competitions. The Six Nations has the highest turnover rate at the breakdown compared to any other competition in the world.
“In the Premiership, where English referees officiate, the ball moves quickly and players are eager to clear it from breakdown situations. The maul area is also kept clean and not subject to heavy penalties. However, in Test rugby, this is not always the case. The breakdown is a more competitive area, especially due to the presence of skilled back-rowers in the Six Nations such as those from Ireland, France, and Scotland.”
South Africa emphasized in the World Cup semi-final that the scrum is a unique aspect that differs from anything seen in domestic games. As seen in the semi-final, the scrum is a competitive element and the ability for teams to win penalties through scrummaging is crucial. In the Premiership, there are too many scrums that do not result in a true competition. Personally, I prefer a scrum that is a true contest and I do not want it to be eliminated from our game.
This is one of the factors that leads Borthwick to anticipate a set of close Six Nations matches, influenced by strong defensive performance. As competition rises, so does the level of defense. In international rugby, there are fewer missed tackles and players are becoming more physically fit. The ability to make eight substitutions also means there is less room on the field in the second half. This makes the game increasingly challenging.
Therefore, teams are hesitant to engage in excessive rugby play in the center of the field and the significance of a proficient kicking strategy. Enjoyment may vary from person to person, but the sport cannot allow for too much cautiousness. Borthwick is one of many who support limiting the number of substitutions allowed on the bench to less than the current eight.
There is a larger conversation to be had about the essence of the game. However, at present, there is less room to maneuver. In order to increase it, we must experience a certain level of weariness in our actions. There are various areas that can be adjusted, but one possibility is the number of substitutions. This will affect the amount of fatigue in the game and create more opportunities for movement.
Currently, England requires players with a strong work ethic and proficiency in handling the ball. Sam Underhill and Ben Earl possess these qualities, along with Luke Cowan-Dickie, who is returning from injury after missing the World Cup. An effective center duo will also be crucial. If it is determined that Ollie Lawrence will not be utilized in the 12 position, uncapped Fraser Dingwall from Northampton could be considered and given the opportunity to demonstrate that his performance in the Premiership can carry over to the international level.
Borthwick is feeling optimistic that the Premiership, now with only 10 teams, is creating more tightly contested matches that can better prepare players for the top level. He acknowledges that the concentration of talent has grown in several teams, and although the circumstances may not have been ideal, the overall quality of play has improved. This has resulted in a more competitive Premiership, which is a positive development for the sport.
The competitiveness of the matches is crucial. International rugby is highly competitive and if we continue to have games where one team dominates, it will not adequately prepare players for the challenges they will face. Teams are now forced to strategize and find ways to come out on top in close games. This demand for mental toughness was not always present. It is widely recognized that the mental strength required in the Six Nations tournament is exceptional.
England will be moving to Spain on Tuesday for business purposes, not for leisure.