Steve Borthwick has vowed to give his England players greater clarity in his role as head coach – and in return will demand that they play with fight and courage.
Borthwick is looking to turn England’s fortunes around after a difficult Autumn Nations Series campaign which culminated with predecessor Eddie Jones leaving his role after seven years in charge.
In his short time as a head coach, Borthwick has masterminded Leicester Tigers return to the summit of the Gallagher Premiership, ending a nine-year wait for English rugby’s top prize.
He reformed the club around an ethos of commitment to fitness and a structured game plan which demanded set-piece solidity and field territory.
He has backed up his promise of ‘clarity’ in his 36-man squad announcement for the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, making it clear that Owen Farrell will skipper his side.
And beyond that, Borthwick wants to help his players cope with the little moments that define Test rugby, having been frustrated from afar during the autumn.
“The reality is that during the Autumn Nations Series, in high-pressure moments, or when things went wrong or the players got challenged, the England team did not have the clarity to move forward, and that’s a point the players have said to me many times,” said Borthwick.
“Players need clarity on how we’re going to play and fundamentally I want them to fight in every single contest.
“As an England supporter watching those Autumn Nations Series games, I was gutted.
“I want people to be proud of this team. I want a team that fights. We will make tactical changes and that will improve over time but we need to go out on that field and fight.”
Borthwick was quick to emphasise that England will need to channel that aggression and while he wants his team to be fired up, it is crucial that they stay on the right side of the law.
One aspect of the game that referees will have a keen eye on this Championship is speed of play, and Borthwick has reacted accordingly, opting for pace and agility throughout his squad, attributes he is hoping to maximise in his day-to-day role as a coach.
“I said to the players that I want to bring their strengths onto the field,” he said.
“I want them to bring all of themselves, to be all in and to do that, you’ve got to bring all your strengths – that gives you the best chance of success.
“For each player in the squad, you could list two or three brilliant strengths and probably one outstanding super-strength.
“The job I’ve got to do is to create an environment that allows them to bring those strengths onto the field so that we see the very best of them.”
With tempo high on the agenda, one player who could be back in an England shirt before long is fly-half George Ford.
Ford, who has not played at all this season after rupturing his Achilles, was the orchestrator in the title-winning Tigers team and Borthwick made no attempt to disguise his admiration for Ford, while also pre-empting a return for another stricken star, Henry Arundell.
“There’s players not in this squad who have deliberately made the decision to be at their clubs, who are on the verge of returning from injury and I have made it clear that I want them to be at their clubs to have a full week’s preparation and the potential to play,” he said.
“They will be available for selection the following week. George Ford is one of them and Henry Arundell is another.
“I’m hopeful that those two guys are going to be on the pitch very soon and then become available for England selection.”
The immediate focus for Borthwick is England’s Championship opener against Scotland, an opposition they have beaten just once in their last five meetings.
And while he does not expect England to be the finished article for that crunch Twickenham clash, he is confident he can make an impact in the time available to him.
“In the time we have, we need to get the base of the game in place,” he said.
“I’m not going to be a coach who talks about the time available, or injuries or availability.
“I have the opportunity to coach the England rugby team, I have some fantastic players who are desperate to do well and I am desperate to build a team that we can all be proud of.”