What can England fans expect from Steve Borthwick?

Borthwick Farrell 2000
‘Detail, detail, detail’ – if there is one word that comes back over and over when it comes to new England coach Steve Borthwick, it is his relentless attention to detail.

‘Detail, detail, detail’ – if there is one word that comes back over and over when it comes to new England coach Steve Borthwick, it is his relentless attention to detail.

The former England captain was this week named as the successor to his mentor Eddie Jones as the England head coach, with the Australian’s seven-year tenure coming to an end following the Autumn Nations Series.

Borthwick earned 57 caps for England and was appointed captain by another former England skipper turned coach in Martin Johnson.

After retiring from a glittering career at both club and international level, he moved into coaching, with his first role coming under Jones as an assistant coach for Japan.

Since then he has worked at Bristol Bears, was England’s forwards coach from 2015-2020 and led Leicester Tigers to a Gallagher Premiership title just two years into the job.

Now it is his time for the biggest role in English rugby and with Jones leaving as statistically England’s best ever head coach, he has big boots to fill, but what can England fans expect from Steve Borthwick’s side?

Strong set-piece

Unsurprisingly, given Borthwick’s expertise as both a player and coach, one of the fundamentals in his sides is a strong set-piece and with England that will almost certainly be one of the first things he will look to implement.

England struggled in the pack for much of this year, with France overpowering them in the Guinness Six Nations, Scotland getting some joy up front at BT Murrayfield and more recently, New Zealand and most evidently South Africa winning the scrum battle in the Autumn Nations Series.

Borthwick’s Leicester success was centred around having an extremely strong scrum, highlighted by the quality of his props in Ellis Genge, James Whitcombe, Dan Cole and Joe Heyes.

As a former second row, it is behind the front line Borthwick really thrives, and in Ollie Chessum, Calum Green, George Martin and Harry Wells, there is a brilliant mix of power, lineout prowess and ability in the loose.

England have these options ready to go, with Genge almost certain to retain his spot at loosehead, and Joe Marler, Bevan Rodd and Val Rapava Ruskin all in form, while on the other side of the scrum, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart and the Leicester duo are great options.

In the second row too, Borthwick will have selection dilemmas, Maro Itoje will surely start and in Chessum, Courtney Lawes, David Ribbans and Hugh Tizard, he can form a balanced pair – just what Borthwick wants, and just what he had when taking Leicester to the top of the English game.

A self-proclaimed rugby ‘nause’, Borthwick spent most of his time as a player studying lineout calls and opposition jumping patterns. Expect England’s lineout to be a weapon when he takes over.

Let the backs play

There is a common misconception that forward pack dominance automatically makes you a dull side incapable of scoring tries, and in the 2021/22 season, this was not the case at Leicester.

In fact, the two worked in tandem to perfection, with almost constant front foot ball for any of Jack van Poortvliet, Ben Youngs or Richard Wigglesworth leaving George Ford in dreamland.

Tigers were capable of scoring from anywhere on the pitch, scoring 3.67 tries per game, with the playmaker in Ford using his variety of different attacking options to wear down defences.

Ford, Gallagher Premiership’s top points scorer with 220 points, had weapons such as Nemani Nadolo, Chris Ashton and Harry Potter on the wing.

Borthwick has his very own English Nadolo in Joe Cokanasiga, while Max Malins, Cadan Murley and Henry Arundell all provide the X factor, as well as more experienced options Jonny May and Anthony Watson, who coincidentally, Borthwick brought to Leicester this season.

Ford was Borthwick’s main man at Tigers, but Freddie Burns was also vitally important and hit the winning drop goal.

Whether Borthwick’s arrival will see Ford come back into the starting conversation will be one interesting point to watch – once Ford is fully fit again.

But with Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell as well, he will not be short of top-quality playmakers at fly-half.

Ball-carrying centre essential

Genge and Ford were probably the two most important players in Borthwick’s Leicester side, but there is no doubt who the unsung hero was – Dan Kelly.

The inside centre was essentially the glue that held the backline together both in defence and attack – in other words, the perfect centre.

Recently England have been playing with a playmaker at inside centre and using a double pivot system of Smith and Farrell, this seems unlikely to continue under Borthwick.

Kelly will be a frontrunner at inside centre, but other strong ball-carrying presences such as Manu Tuilagi, Ollie Lawrence and Ollie Devoto could also be in contention for the No.12 jersey.

Defensively well drilled

Tigers’ attacking stats under Borthwick were good, but defensively, there was no better side, conceding just 452 points at an average of 18 points per game.

This all revolved around defensively sound centres (Kelly and Guy Porter) and a perfectly balanced back row, which allowed for Tommy Reffell to act as the out and out ‘fetcher’, winning turnovers, slowing down opposition ball and making incredible amounts of tackles.

Both factors are something that Borthwick has at his fingertips as England boss, with Tom Curry, Jack Willis and Will Evans all traditional openside flankers and the likes of Porter, Henry Slade, Alex Lozowski and Piers O’Conor some of the best defensive centres in the land.

If Borthwick wants his defence to line up similar again, he would not need to look very far to find it.

Pinpoint kicking

Last but not least, Borthwick’s teams are outstanding in the kicking game, whether that is his scrum-halves who are able to drop their box-kicks in the perfect position to regather or Freddie Steward, already among the very best in the world under a high ball, still early in his international career.

Jones had already made the most of those skills for England, so expect to see more of Steward chasing Van Poortvliet or Youngs box-kicks as England look to recover as much kicked possession as possible.


Borthwick proved with Tigers that there are plenty of strings to his attacking bow, and with the options England have, he can certainly add even more.

The upcoming Guinness Six Nations feels very similar to his first season with Leicester and offers him the chance to pick up results and embed his playing style, before attempting to mirror his title win with Leicester in the World Cup in France.