Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Robert Kitson discusses Borthwick's decision to either stay loyal or make changes to the current England team.
Rugby union Sport

Robert Kitson discusses Borthwick’s decision to either stay loyal or make changes to the current England team.

During Martin Johnson’s tenure as head coach of England, he frequently used a particular phrase in response to potentially uncomfortable situations. “It is what it is,” he would say, reminding his audience not to get too caught up in either defeat or victory. While it may not have been the most attention-grabbing statement, it was understandable from his point of view. There are times when there simply isn’t a quick solution to life’s most pressing issues.

The atmosphere at Murrayfield this weekend seemed to confirm that. As many predicted, Scotland appeared stronger and more united compared to England. As expected, the English team faced a tougher challenge from Scotland than from Italy or Wales. Unless there is a significant improvement, it appears that England will have a disappointing performance in the Six Nations for the fourth year in a row.

If anyone is taken aback by this situation, it shows they have not been paying enough attention. The previous instance of England securing a notable victory in the Six Nations while playing away from home against a formidable opponent was in Dublin in 2019. Since then, they have made numerous changes to their coaching staff, support team, players, captains, and strategies, yet others have surged ahead, leaving them stuck in the middle of the rankings.

Let’s face it, four successive Calcutta Cup defeats can hardly be dismissed as a blip or a lucky flash in the Murrayfield pan. And how and why does a country with just two professional sides, a worryingly shallow domestic talent pool and squeezed financial resources now embarrass their supposedly better stocked neighbours on an annual basis? Particularly when England were so yawningly dominant in this fixture a decade ago that Scotland could not muster a solitary point against them at home.

If any one stark graph sums up the complacency, muddled thinking and questionable stewardship of the English game over the past decade and a half, that is surely it. Scotland may have the benefit of the remarkable Duhan van der Merwe and the irresistible Finn Russell, but still. While England still mostly see off inferior opponents, they almost always fall short against the better teams. Their favourable World Cup draw masked that reality last year but the Six Nations permits no such shortcuts.

Steve Borthwick and his team have a lot to consider as they prepare for their next match against Ireland, the top team in Europe. The upcoming game against France in Lyon will also be a challenge. After that, they have summer Tests against Japan, led by Eddie Jones, and two matches against the All Blacks in Dunedin and Auckland. Even Japan may be looking forward to the opportunity.

Steve Borthwick arrives at Murrayfield

Display the image in full-screen mode.

Is Borthwick faced with a decision? Should he continue to support older players who have been valuable to English rugby but may not be performing as well? Or would it be better for him to give opportunities to young players like Manny Feyi-Waboso, Fin, Marcus Smith, George Martin, Chandler Cunningham-South, and Alfie Barbeary sooner rather than later, since England may not have much to lose?

Choosing a young team to play against Ireland does not guarantee immediate success, as Wales can attest. Similarly, it would be foolish to ignore the obvious truth. England’s pack does not strike fear into their opponents and a strong defense can only take them so far. Despite Borthwick’s claims of a “new” team, nine of the 23 players on the matchday squad are 29 years old or older, and there is no easy solution in sight for their struggles at Twickenham.

“Skip over the promotion for the newsletter.”

Why does Ollie Lawrence excel while playing for Bath alongside Russell in the Premiership, but struggle while wearing England’s No. 12 jersey? England’s first try showcased their ability with quick first-phase ball, but in the second quarter, their composure, execution, and game management fell apart. Their deficiencies in basic attacking skills, such as gaining ground quickly and securely, precise handling, and avoiding forced passes, make them weaker compared to most of their opponents.

Borthwick still hasn’t found a solution to this problem, even though he took over from Eddie Jones in early last year. Going back to the same outdated game strategy used in the World Cup would be a major setback, but so would giving up and allowing Ireland to score 50 points at home just to try new things. It’s likely that for now, there will be a compromise, with Ben Spencer playing scrum-half and Feyi-Waboso, a rising star, on one of the wings.

Having said that, Martin and Cunningham-South must be making a strong effort, especially with Fin Smith’s impressive performance for Northampton against Munster just last month. This is still fresh in the minds of Irish fans, making it worth considering his promotion from the bench. With the Rugby Football Union deciding against the potential switch of their traditional home at Twickenham to Wembley, they must now find a way to give their tired supporters a reason to attend matches.

Perhaps they should take inspiration from Scottish Rugby’s approach. The match on Saturday was impressively set up and stood out for its simple acoustics and carefully selected music – kudos to the person who chose “Wagon Wheel” by the fittingly named Darius Rucker – even before Van der Merwe (aka Van the Man) sent England packing.

Gregor Townsend, Scotland’s head coach, was correct in acknowledging that his team’s performance was far from perfect. We will have to wait until their final game against Ireland in Dublin to determine if this is a truly strong Scottish team, or if they are simply motivated by the opportunity to defeat England. As for England, they must be patient and accept their current position.

Source: theguardian.com