“Every game matters. Every single game you play for England matters. The one that's in my mind is at the start of that Six Nations.” Steve Borthwick

(estimated 6 minute read time)

After the sacking of Eddie Jones back in December, the RFU acted swiftly to appoint a new England Head Coach ahead of the 6 Nations. The man placed in the firing line at the top of the men’s rugby pyramid was Steve Borthwick.

We’ve looked into the profile of the quiet Cumbrian. What are Borthwick’s credentials and what can England fans expect to see from Borthwick at Twickenham and beyond?

Steve Borthwick’s Career

A former player and captain with Bath, Saracens, and England, Borthwick won the English Premiership title with Leicester Tigers in just his second season in charge and was always one of the frontrunners for the job, even prior to Jones’ departure.

In his own words, Borthwick was “captivated by the England rugby team as a young boy” and his passion for the game has burned brightly ever since. Inspired by that England team of the ’90s…Carling, Guscott, Moore, Andrew and co., Borthwick’s heroes were multiple Grand Slam winners, and Rugby World Cup Finalists in 1991. The young man from Carlisle was determined to follow in their footsteps.

Signing for Bath

As an obvious standout performer, Borthwick signed his first professional contract for Bath in 1998 and balanced his fledgling career with studying for a degree in Politics and Economics at The University of Bath, where he graduated in 2003.

During his career at Bath, Borthwick formed a formidable second-row partnership with England Rugby World Cup winner Danny Grewcock and went on to make 246 appearances for the club. Indeed, in the 2003 season which saw many key players absent due to the Rugby World Cup, Borthwick came to the fore and narrowly missed out on a last-minute ticket to Australia after his old Bath teammate Danny Grewcock succumbed to a hand injury. Sir Clive Woodward opted to bring Simon Shaw into the fold and Borthwick, who had been involved in the England set-up since 2001, was left at home to watch the glorious 2003 World Cup win on television.

At club level though, Borthwick had become a stalwart of the Bath team, captaining the team between 2005 and 2008. Known for his expertise as a lineout jumper and the studious nature by which he approached the game, Borthwick was tough, uncompromising, and unerringly solid in all that he did. Bath made the Premiership Final in 2003-04 but it was his final game for the West Country club that Borthwick would finally raise some silverware. After a decade’s worth of toil in the Bath engine room, he captained Bath to glory in the 2007-08 European Challenge in what was a 24-16 win over Worcester at Kingsholm. That was Borthwick’s final act in the black and blue of Bath before making the move to Saracen’s ahead of the 2008-09 season.

Captain of England Rugby

Coinciding with his switch to Saracens was also Borthwick’s promotion to captain of England rugby, replacing legendary prop Phil Vickery. He would captain England between June 2008 and March 2010 in what was ultimately considered to be a fallow spell for English rugby. Marred by indiscipline and a lack of coaching structure from Martin Johnson, England struggled to maintain the high standards set by reaching consecutive Rugby World Cup Finals in 2003 and 2007. Borthwick’s final game for England came in the Calcutta Cup in 2010 – a knee injury kept him out of the rest of the 6 Nations, and he was subsequently dropped from England’s Elite Player Squad.

Playing for Saracens

Installed immediately as co-captain with Andy Farrell in 2008 and taking over sole responsibility of the role in 2009, Borthwick was a key cog in the Saracen’s team that went on to win their first-ever Premiership title in 2010-11. Saracens would go on to become the benchmark for English teams during 2010 and Borthwick’s influence was more than apparent.

The Start of a Coaching Career

After retiring from playing at the end of the 2013-14 season, Borthwick immediately embarked upon his coaching career. Teaming up with none other than Eddie Jones as a forwards coach for Japan, Borthwick was part of their magnificent run at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. After a stint at Bristol Bears, Borthwick would once again team up with Jones as England’s forwards coach.

Borthwick departed the England role in 2019 to take up the Head Coach role at Leicester Tigers and after impressing supporters with their style of play, Leicester would claim their eleventh Premiership title in 2021-22, after what was just his second season in charge.

England Rugby Coach

Signed as Head Coach for England rugby in December 2022, Borthwick was given a baptism of fire in the form of the Guinness 6 Nations 2023. However, his dreams of building a winning team were put under the spotlight following the performance of the team. 

Borthwick’s coaching and player choices give a good indication of the style of play England may employ going forward. Interviewed ahead of the start of the tournament, Borthwick has emphasized fight and clarity – total coherence at set piece, kicking, attack and defence.

In harness with Kevin Sinfield, Nick Evans, and Richard Cockerill, Borthwick will aim to deliver a template that accentuates the attributes of the players at his disposal but is still moulded and grounded in his own image.

This first squad gives us a window into England’s approach and how their game could come together. With the selection of multiple lock-blindside hybrids like Ollie Chessum, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes, dynamism and lineout expertise are obvious traits. Add skilful turnover merchants like Lewis Ludlam, Sam Simmonds, Ben Earl and Jack Willis into the mix and England has enough ballstealing expertise to flummox in the most ardent of attacking forces. At Number 8, Alex Dombrandt is the obvious selection full of pace – swarming and disruptive in defence and sharp in attack.

Maro Itoje playing for England Rugby

In the backline, versatility appears to be high on Borthwick’s agenda, with Freddie Steward potentially playing on the wing and Elliot Daly being brought back into the fold. Both Daly and Max Malins thrive in the Saracens system alongside Owen Farrell so this could also be a pointer as to how England may line up.

Alex Mitchell, Fin Smith and Tommy Freeman are potent attacking weapons who could be utilised and with young stars Cadan Murley and Ollie Hassell-Collins also putting their hands up for selection, England have real attacking threat and options.

The return of 95-cap Dan Cole shows a need for ballast and solidity at scrum time although the omission of Val Rapava-Ruskin as well as bruising locks like Dave Ribbans is somewhat curious. Whatever transpires over the coming weeks, England will have a game plan that connects different facets: kicking, defence, set piece and attack. That is the clarity that Borthwick has promised.