Updated: Sep 10
As rugby fans, we've all been there: your team puts in an abysmal performance and you're left wondering why on earth certain decisions were made. In the case of the England rugby team, many fans are pointing fingers at current head coach Steve Borthwick. But is he really the worst England head coach ever? I mean really the worst? Worse than Andy Robinson, worse even than Stuart Lancaster?
First of all, it's important to note that Borthwick only took on the role of head coach in Dec 2022, so he hasn't had much time since then - he came to the helm with the words, and vision every England fan wanted to hear...
I want the whole country to be proud of us and to enjoy watching us play. The hard work starts now and planning for the Guinness Six Nations and Rugby World Cup begins today.
What followed is a quite diabolical six defeats out of their nine matches and a run of five losses in six - including a record 10-53 home defeat to Ireland and a home defeat to Fiji. You read that right - not just a defeat, but a home defeat to Fiji... the first ever defeat in the 15 man game to Fiji. In the 7 man game, Fiji run like Gazelles and are supreme masters of that, but rucking and mauling up front in the 15 man game is not their forte... Turns out they are bettter than England in every department at the moment. It was a shambolic performance by the Red Rose.
Borthwick worse than Stuart Lancaster who won 5 and drew one of his first 9 in charge
But then, rather worryingly, Steve Borthwick sees things differently.
The players are invested in what we are doing here, I am very clear about that
As a forwards coach at Bristol and before that Assistant Coach with Japan, Borthwick seemed to do a decent job. As Head Coach at Leicester, he won a Premiership title - once. Is that any reason to give him the top job in Rugby? Claudio Ranieri won a title with Leicester City but was sacked 6 months later, we didn't see many calling for him to take on the England football job. Why? because he is not good enough, period. Any fan of any sport would assert that a weak manager can still have a piece of success with lots of luck on their side. So, in my opinion, working with smaller, less competitive teams, in lower-profile positions, certainly did not qualify Borthwick to lead a team like England. I simply do not believe he had gained, mastered, or proved the skills.
Even worse than Andy Robinson who won 5 of his first 9 in charge...
We know that England's results under his leadership have been unacceptable, but the manner of those defeats is just embarrassing. All the bad old traits of inept tactics, bonkers team selections, and ill-discipline on the field. The historic English problem is the misplaced assertion that big games can be won with anything other than a full 15 on the field. At any other time in the World Cup cycle, Borthwick would have been sacked. When the shit hits the fan, a successful team needs a leader with vision and balls. Yet, with reports of players restless with his leadership style, allegedly feeling that he is too focused on stats and analysis and that he doesn't communicate well with the team, this doesn't appear to be the case.
That first defeat by Fiji in front of a very poor Twickenham crowd was a hugely sobering day for English rugby. Say what you like about rail strikes or the night before Haka... Cometh the hour, cometh the fans - and Twickenham is only 2 thirds full for the last international before the World Cup... Says a lot about how us fans are feeling.
I guess that how the broken remains of this year are glued together will prove whether Borthwick can step up and lead. While we can't know for sure what goes on behind RFU doors, my guess is that the knives are already sharpened in readiness for England's failure to get out of a very challenging group stage in France. I am not alone in my belief that they will leave France with only a sackful of regrets, following another 3 defeats by Argentina, Japan and Samoa - and a solitary win against Chile. England has some amazing players, why do I feel that way?
Borthwick needs to man up in public and prove why he is the right man for the job.
He needs to look in the mirror, fumble in his jockeys and find his bollocks. England are playing far too conservatively. Kicking the ball away, way too often - even when they are in the attacking third of the pitch in good positions. They look afraid to take the ball into contact, going to ground like a wet bag of 10p mix, and counting on a hit and hope box kick to keep momentum. It doesn't. And to top it all, it's fucking boring to watch.
So Borthwick had that slim success with his style of play at Leicester. But it is not working at international level. That much is undeniable having seen the Six Nations and England's four World Cup warm-ups.
For the sake of the English fans, I really hope he has the coaching capacity to react and evolve the way he operates to help get the chariot back on its wheels - and come the end of October if England come away with the Webb Ellis trophy, I shall stand proudly corrected - on the flip side - a calamitous group stage exit should almost certainly mean the end of the line for him.
So, is Steve Borthwick the worst England head coach ever?
At the moment, undeniably yes. But that's only my opinion - what do you think?
Footnote : I will update my opinion as the World Cup progresses. Starting with today’s game against Argentina. Borthwick has named a strong side, full of big time players and also a blend of inexperience. We need those big names to show up - we need players like Mitchell at scrum half not to be saddled with creating a boring aerial battle, but be creatively unleashed.
England 27-10 Argentina: George Ford kicks 14-man England to superb Rugby World Cup victory - https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-union/66765159