Steve Borthwick aims to forge links with Premiership to boost England talent

<span>Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP</span>
Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

The England head coach, Steve Borthwick, is aiming to develop a new relationship with top-level clubs that he believes will help the team get back on top of the Six Nations and boost their World Cup hopes.

Ireland’s grand slam-clinching victory in Dublin ensured England finished fourth, with previous defeats against Scotland and France adding up to another disappointing return. England finished fifth in the 2021 championship and third last season and there appears to be a widening gap between them and the world’s best teams, despite the Rugby Football Union’s enviable resources.

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“We will do a review on Wednesday as a management team,” Borthwick said following the 29-16 defeat at the Aviva Stadium. “We will go through the whole Six Nations and what the key lessons are as a debrief, and then next week I will be communicating with the directors of rugby, head coaches and players.

“Conor O’Shea is working as the [RFU] performance director … Hopefully working together, Conor with the clubs, the RFU with the clubs and PRL [Premiership Rugby], we will be able to develop a system that enables the club game to thrive, and the international team to thrive.”

There has been widespread criticism of the English system and the often problematic relationship between the RFU and the clubs, particularly in comparison with Ireland where the provincial sides are capable of producing a wealth of elite talent. But Borthwick, who had limited time to prepare for the Six Nations after being appointed in December following the dismissal of Eddie Jones, believes things can change for the better.

“That is what we all want, we want a really competitive, vibrant Premiership rugby that produces the best possible players,” Borthwick said.

“That is where we want to be. We don’t want multiple Six Nations with only a couple of wins. We want to be at the top of the championship.”

The referee Jaco Peyper explains his decision to send off England’s Freddie Steward against Ireland
The referee Jaco Peyper explains his decision to send off England’s Freddie Steward against Ireland. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Borthwick said last month that he inherited a team that “weren’t good at anything”, and he added he is determined to improve the squad’s conditioning before the World Cup in France this year, but that an uptick in their collective fitness had already become apparent.

“The conditioning of the players has improved through the tournament. If you reflect on the Scotland game, which is the first one we played … you saw the drop-off which is where Scotland beat us. Against what we know is a very fit and athletic Ireland team, and playing with numbers down for a considerable period of time, I think everyone could see the difference … We don’t want to spend the World Cup camp trying to get fit. We want to use the World Cup camp to get better.”

The debate on Freddie Steward’s red card looks likely to continue, meanwhile, with the England prop Dan Cole insisting the full-back did not deserve to be sent off by the referee, Jaco Peyper, following a clash with Hugo Keenan.

The Ireland full-back Keenan did not return following a head injury assessment while England were left to play with 14 men and were duly overwhelmed by the world’s No 1 team in the final quarter.

Before producing the card Peyper explained to Steward and the England captain, Owen Farrell, that he had no other option but to make it a red “in the current climate”. After the match, it is understood that Peyper expressed his fear he would not be appointed to referee another high-profile game in future had he not sent Steward off.

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“It’s tough. Freddie is just reacting. It looked like he was trying to pull out and the bloke runs into him,” said Cole, who marked his 100th England cap against Ireland. “He feels he let the team down but he hasn’t. He’s reacted, tried to turn away and the bloke’s run into him. There was no intent, no maliciousness.”

Asked if he is in despair at the application of the laws and the proliferation of cards, Cole said: “It is complicated. You want the game to be as safe as possible but you understand that when you play a contact sport, and you’ve got people running into each other. Sometimes it happens.

“If there’s intent throw the book at people, send them off, do what you need to do. But sometimes it is reaction stuff.”