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Steve Borthwick: The quiet Cumbrian set to succeed Eddie Jones as England boss

Steve Borthwick looks set to be appointed England head coach (Isaac Parkin/PA)
Steve Borthwick looks set to be appointed England head coach (Isaac Parkin/PA)

It has always been a question of when, not if, Steve Borthwick would take charge of England.

Eddie Jones’ former number two, the man seen as the glue behind the scenes of one of the most successful periods in English rugby history, looks set to succeed his coaching mentor, who has been sacked nine months out from the World Cup.

The timeframe for his likely ascent to the throne may have been accelerated by the team’s unacceptable malaise under Jones, but the 43-year-old Cumbrian has been destined for the role since he hung up his boots in 2014.

A tough second-row who played his entire professional career at Bath and Saracens, Borthwick amassed 57 caps for England and served as captain for the last two years of his time as an international.

From an early stage he proved a natural leader, his rugby intelligence matched by total commitment to the team, making him a central figure in every rugby environment he has worked in.

For Saracens he was as much on-field coach as uncompromising front-five forward, his analytical approach to the game initially finding its home most at the line-out, his main area of expertise.

Borthwick played a crucial role in elevating Saracens from a middling club to the dominant force on these shores and his influence in north London was spoken of in reverential terms by team-mates and colleagues.

A quiet man, his distaste for the front-of-house aspect of his work created a public persona that was at odds with the high esteem in which he is held behind the scenes, but his career path progressed seamlessly nonetheless.

Steve Borthwick (left) worked under Eddie Jones with Japan and England
Steve Borthwick (left) worked under Eddie Jones (right) with Japan and England (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Having dipped his toe into the coaching waters at Saracens, his first major break came when he took charge of Japan’s forwards under Jones’ guidance.

Japan surpassed all expectations at the 2015 World Cup and, when Jones was appointed England boss on the strength of the Brave Blossoms’ performance, Borthwick inevitably followed him.

After four successful years which included a Grand Slam, Six Nations title and World Cup final appearance, he left Twickenham to become Leicester’s director of rugby.

As England floundered in the years following Japan 2019, the 18-Test winning run that launched the Jones era now a distant memory, the Tigers flourished under their young figurehead.

The fallen giants of English club rugby were transformed into Gallagher Premiership champions, with victory over Saracens last season the coronation.

Steve Borthwick guided Leicester to the Premiership title last season
Steve Borthwick guided Leicester to the Premiership title last season (Mike Egerton/PA)

The likes of George Ford and Ellis Genge were outstanding on the field, but the mastermind was Borthwick, whose no-nonsense currency of hard graft and commitment was matched by tactical expertise.

“Steve demands very high standards, we all know that,” said South Africa’s 2019 World Cup winning fly-half Handre Pollard, who joined Leicester over the summer.

“But it’s not a results-driven club, it’s about getting better day by day, regardless of whether we win or lose. Nothing changes.

“When emotion sometimes gets the better of some coaches, with him it’s every Monday, reset, and the same story. It’s nice as a player – it’s not a rollercoaster. Every week is the same.

“Steve is different. I’ve not seen anyone like him before. He really dives into the technical and analytical side of rugby, which is pretty cool. The game is developing so you have to stay with it. He’s great in that sense.

England endured a dismal autumn at Twickenham
England endured a dismal autumn at Twickenham (Ben Whitley/PA)

“He doesn’t speak too much but his all-round personality means you know where you stand with him, which is always nice.”

With England in crisis it is unlikely that Borthwick would have chosen this moment to take the reins, but when offered the position he will do so knowing his credentials are impeccable.

Only nine months and two blocks of fixtures – the Six Nations and World Cup warm-up fixtures – separate him from the quest to seize South Africa’s global crown, but his looming appointment brings hope that the clouds over Twickenham can be lifted.