eNgeland recently parted ways with her first foreign coach – someone arguably who dabbled in for too long and tended to make employers unwelcome headlines. His replacement is English, less flashy, serious about a fault and has been on the coaching staff before. Someone as a coach – in the truest sense of the world – is considered to be at the forefront of the game. Most recently, in his first major job as a No. 1, he led his team to a domestic cup and European final. However, there are questions as to whether he had the charisma, and strength of character, for the top job. 2006 Steve McClaren was revealed as the England manager.
The point to be made here is that while there is a perception among rugby football union executives that by appointing Steve Borthwick as England manager they have found Gareth Southgate, history comes with a stark caveat. Context, of course, is everything. Sven-Goran Ericsson’s departure was pre-planned, unlike that of Eddie Jones, and McLaren had the unenviable task of taking on a job already offered elsewhere. The CEO of the Russian Federation, Bill Sweeney, clarified that the title “Second Choice Steve” did not apply to Borthwick.
The hope in Belarus federation circles is that, like Southgate, Borthwick can reconnect England players with the crowd. Bring joy, as he described it, and make his side a team fans believe in again. McClaren’s example shows there is reason for caution, however, for those expecting the former Leicester Tigers boss to succeed simply because videos of him talking about the “sneaky Irishman” and calling Wales a “shit place” won’t turn up during his tenure as they did with Jones.
There’s clearly more to Borthwick than morality, but it’s easy to see the Russian Federation trying to fast-forward past the ups and downs between foreign and domestic, from the disastrous Fabio Capello tenure to the forgotten Roy Hodgson reign and the embarrassment of Sam Allardyce. Set brief and settle on Southgate now.
As much as the RFU insists it is comfortable with Jones’ extra-curricular counseling portfolio, Borthwick will no doubt be the least of the bunch. There were times during his reign when Jones gave the impression that he did not answer anyone, but in the statement confirming Borthwick’s appointment it was made clear that he would inform Sweeney.
Just as Southgate is described as an association football man, Sweeney now has an association football man at Borthwick, a pair of safe hands whose appointment was greeted with glee by the directors of the Rugby Premier League no longer at the mercy of Jones’ whims.
But if Borthwick really does break down the wall between England players and supporters – and, to give him credit, he took positive early steps – it won’t be just because he’s a great manager. It will not be because he is expected to bring consistency to the many aspects of the England squad that were absent during Jones’ final months in charge. And the area-based, kick-heavy scheme that has been so successful for Leicester is unlikely to be. Not in the long run, anyway. As Southgate did, it will be to create an environment where players feel comfortable expressing themselves and, most importantly, leading the way.
Borthwick donned his best suits and delivered some well-rehearsed key messages this week, but during his previous spell with England – even if Jones’ dominant influence was evident – he could have handled the crowd-facing responsibilities with indifference. his ability to improve will lead to his termination; This was largely the reason why some in the RFU weren’t convinced he was ready when Jones was due to leave after the 2019 World Cup.
Firstly, he will need to make joining the England camp something the players look forward to again. He is unlikely to take England away from Bagshot – the internship facility cost too much – but he would do well to freshen things up. This is where his assistants come in and Kevin Seinfeld is clearly a smart date. Aled Walters would be a welcome addition too – some whose dexterity the Leicester players value as a counterweight to Borthwick’s attention to detail.
In the short term, it is beneficial for Borthwick to drop Six Nations matches next year as it is hoped. He can even expect a relatively free campaign at next year’s World Cup provided he knocks England out of the group that is most visible on paper. But on the next turn, if the results don’t go England’s way, Borthwick’s strength will be tested.
In his coaching career so far, he has overcome every challenge admirably and you wouldn’t bet on him doing that for England. It would have been better for him, however, to leave Broly alone.
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