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'Boring' Borthwick the logical choice

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Bryn Palmer | 13:04 UK time, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Oh no, not Borthwick again.

That seemed to be the gist of the reaction among the majority of England supporters to the news the Saracens captain will lead his country into battle for the 18th time against Wales at Twickenham a week on Saturday.

There were no eulogies from Martin Johnson, who has defended his skipper to the hilt ever since appointing him to succeed the stricken Phil Vickery for the ill-fated tour of New Zealand in the summer of 2008.

Not a word from the boss man in fact. Just a one-line statement on an RFU press release communicating details about England's preparations in Portugal this week and a list of players called up as cover:

'England team manager Martin Johnson has confirmed that Steve Borthwick (Saracens) will captain the team.'

Steve Borthwick leads out England at Twickenham for last November's Test against New Zealand.jpgBorthwick will lead out England for the 18th time, on the occasion of his 54th cap, against Wales on 6 February

So why the largely negative reaction on the messageboards?

Why does the revered Johnno continue to put his faith in Borthwick and find his judgement questioned by former internationals, pundits and supporters alike?

An objective analysis of what the 30-year-old brings to the party might conclude that any decision other than to reappoint him might have been deemed the height of folly.

As a line-out leader, he is one of the best in the business in Europe.

According to official stats, England lost precisely one - yep, one - of their 49 line-outs in last year's Six Nations, a figure that reflected exceedingly well on the man whose job it is to ensure the operation runs smoothly.

Such is Borthwick's perfectionist nature - "I'm never satisfied with my lot and am always searching for improvement" he admits - that one lost ball probably kept him awake for nights.

The man who will join Borthwick in the boiler room against Wales - Simon Shaw - has many attributes, and a wonderful all-round skill-set - but making the calls and running the line-out has not been one of them.

Louis Deacon often does the job for Leicester, but is unlikely to play ahead of Shaw, while Courtney Lawes' Test experience to date consists of 12 minutes as a replacement against Australia in November.

Steve Borthwick soars to win a line-out for England against New Zealand last November.jpg
The loss of Tom Croft, the other main line-out target, means that dropping your other protagonist in that area would have made no sense at all, especially against a Wales side notoriously flaky in that department.

If Borthwick can exert his usual influence there, England may be at least half-way to winning the match.

Saracens' director of rugby Brendan Venter is fond of pointing out that Borthwick is always among the top two contributors, statistics wise, in every club match he plays.

He makes his tackles, hits rucks, does a major share of the dirty work in the tight phases. It would be interesting to hear his stats on ball-carrying, one of the areas most visible to fans, and not conspicuously one of Borthwick's strengths.

But it is difficult to find a team-mate or coach who doesn't praise his integrity, dedication and worth ethic. 'A model professional' is the refrain.

"The thing you have to remember about Steve Borthwick," said one former team-mate at his old club Bath, "is that the poor sod doesn't have a life. Anyone who knows that much about line-outs should get out more."

That may explain, in part, why Borthwick - a politics and economics graduate - is not a favourite of the media or supporters. He is a disciple of the 'learn the lessons, look for the positives' school of pre- and post-match psycho babble, he doesn't deliver good quotes for journalists, he doesn't ooze X-factor star quality.

And of course he is not Martin Johnson, the yardstick by which all England captains are now measured, regardless of the circumstances.

Call it the Martin Corry syndrome. With his battle scars etched ever deeper on his battered face after each morale-sapping loss, the Leicester trojan came to represent the red rose decline post-2003, an honest toiler rather than a top-of-the-bill act.

The main problem, as it was for Corry, is not Borthwick himself, but the dearth of class around him.

The stark truth is that seven years on from conquering the world, England no longer possess a single world-class player, if you define 'world-class' as someone among the top two or three in their position globally, a contender for a 'World XV'.

Johnson, in attempting to demystify his own leadership, has been at pains to reiterate that a captain is only as good as the players and lieutenants around him.

Lest we forget, Johnson had Lawrence Dallaglio, Jason Leonard, Neil Back, Richard Hill and Matt Dawson - who all captained their country - around him at the coalface and thinkers of the calibre of Will Greenwood and Mike Catt calling the shots behind, not to mention a Jonny Wilkinson in his prime.

Borthwick has no such luxuries. Sure, Wilkinson is still there, and remains an influence on those around him, but his own game is far more prone to inconsistency.

Where are the alternatives? First and foremost a captain has to be a guaranteed pick, and apart from Lewis Moody, how many others can you say that about after England's autumn series?

Moody has been mooted as an alternative leader, and certainly came to the fore during November, holding court in the post-match huddles on the Twickenham pitch, as did Steve Thompson on his return to the fold.

Moody is inspirational in the way he plays, and a player others are happy to follow, but could he detach himself from his head-down, body-on-the-line approach to be the cool calculator in the heat of battle required at the highest level?

The return of the experienced Nick Easter at number eight should help take some of the strain off Borthwick, but the Harlequins man is the wrong side of 30 and there is no guarantee he will hold off the challenge of more youthful, dynamic alternatives.

Hooker Dylan Hartley has matured as captain of Northampton this season, but has his hands full at present holding off the challenge of a fit-again Lee Mears and Thompson.

We know there will be a minimum of three changes from the side that started the final autumn Test against New Zealand, and in all likelihood at least half-a-dozen for the Wales match.

At inside centre, Ayoola Erinle is not deemed worthy of a place among the senior and Saxons squads, highlighting the bizaare decision to play him there in the first place. At blind-side flanker, Joe Worsley - crocked early on against the All Blacks - and Tom Croft, who replaced Worsley, are both sidelined. And at tight-head prop, Duncan Bell has only made the Saxons squad.

The injury concern over James Haskell, who is likely to move across from number eight to accommodate Easter if he recovers in time, raises the intriguing possibility of Courtney Lawes starting at six, where he has been playing for his club Northampton.

If Johnson wants to bolster his line-out options in the absence of the athletic Croft, it could be an inspired move, with Harlequins' Chris Robshaw the other blind-side option if Haskell joins Worsley and Croft on the sidelines.

David Wilson is set to resume at tight-head, with one of the young guns Matt Mullan or Dan Cole on the bench - while Riki Flutey - fitness permitting - should return at 12.

Allied to those, we can expect to either Delon Armitage or Ben Foden come in at full-back, Mark Cueto revert to the wing, and a possible change at 13 - Mathew Tait? Shontayne Hape? Or stick with Dan Hipkiss?

And then there are the half-backs. Paul Hodgson or Danny Care? Wilkinson or the fit-again Toby Flood, whose midfield partnership with Flutey was at the heart of much of England's attacking momentum towards the end of last year's Six Nations.

Amid such selectorial flux, to change the captain and main source of line-out possession would - on the face of it - have represented a sea-change in thinking for the arch-pragmatist Johnson.

Borthwick might not be everybody's cup of tea, and may not even be Johnson's long or medium-term choice as skipper.

But in the context of a must-win Championship opener against a fired-up Wales, it was the only sane one.


  • Comment number 1.

    I think you accuratelt state why Borthwick has been picked but it is still the wrong decision. The thing I fundamentally disagree with is that your captain should be either the first name or even a guaranteed name on the team on team sheet first and foremost - wrong. When MJ and even Carling were selected as captain it was because the manager saw something in them (well, in MJ's case the Lion's Manager) that meant the added responsibility would actually also make them a better player. Putting up with mediocrity because we have no other perceived options is ridiculous when we have a couple of yesr to a world cup - now (last season especially, sadly) is the time to take a risk, bring in some new blood. I do not know who this individual should be, MJ should know his charges and it should probably be someone not in the team at the moment.

    For lack of other options at the moment I would go with Moody - at least he leads by example.

    I terms of other selections Tait must start with Flutey. Frankly the oft trottes out rubbish that one of the centres needs to be big because they carry the ball better and are better defenders is absolute twaddle. If MJ desperatley wants anpther ball carrier in the backs who is big (yet gets knocked backwards - like borthwick) then he can go with Banahan...

    For the backs I would go with Ellis/Care, Wilko, Flutey, Tait, Cueto, Armitage, Monye. With Foden on the bench. But they have to play with Wilko flat and runners off him - he has been too deep in the autumn.

    As for the forwards, I haven't decided yet, but why oh why is Payne still there after the autum and being given a lesson by Coles at leicester. I appreciate one game doesn't maketh the man but when he is keeping Castro out of the leicester side and Castro would walk into the England side it beggars belief....

    Rant over. For now.

  • Comment number 2.

    Bryn, i enjoyed the blog and agree with your points. It is far to soon to chop Borthwick for Courtney Lawes, and plucking Erinle from leftfield, only to send him straight back there demonstrates the flawed nature of the initial pick.

    personally i can wait for the 6N and am hopefull that England can lay some foundations for future improvement.

  • Comment number 3.

    Going on previous form, this team is actually probably the easiest an England side to pick for some time. As we know that Johnson is a man not known to take undue risks the team virtually picks itself other than at Scrum half and Outside Centre and possibly one of the wings

    The pack will surely start with a front row of Payne, Hartley, Wilson. 2nd Row of Borthwick and Shaw and a back row of Haskell, Moody and Easter. If Haskell isn't fit then concievably anyone could take the No.6 jersey, although can't imagine Lawes would.

    Scrum Half I think is a straight pick between Care and Hodgson - Hodgson probably getting the nod. Fly Half will be going nowhere other than Toulon and Wilkinson. Flutey at Inside and then Outside is a difficult one. I would love to see Tait, but sadly I think Johnson will prefer the slightly better defensive abilities of Hipkiss or Hape.

    Armitage at Full Back, Cueto on one wing and a toss up between Ashton and Monye on the other.

    It is not a difficult team to pick, but hopefully they will have slightly more guile than in the AI's. The really interesting choices have to be on the bench - Foden, Lawes, Cole, Flood, Care are all players that can make a significant impact.

    Very much looking forward to it either way... especially in 3D

  • Comment number 4.

    I also believe that wilko stands too deep and cannot control the game without a catt/greenwood figure on his shoulder. I would like to see flood at 10 for now with tait outside flutey and definatley not the pondorous lump of banahan on the wing. monye has scored some great tries of late, maybe it is time to blood ashton on the other wing, or at least have him on the bench to get some experience.

    Furthermore, a part of me cannot face seeing two ex NZ internationals standing side by side in our midfield (flutey+hape). Dont bring hape in Johnno!

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Bryn

    I am afraid your case looks like a political spinning effort as in looking for reasons to justify something that is going to happen anyway.
    Steve Borthwick is not a bad player and for all I know he may be a decent bloke.

    However inspite of his most recent game being a better one he has cut a poor figure as England captain.In cricket we once played a lower standard captain in Mike Brearley because he was a first rate captain. But rugby is a different game and he isn't a first class captain is he? In terms of his position well we do have a world class player in Simon Shaw and an upcoming one in Courtney Lawes and one who I feel was unjustly dropped to accomodate Borthwick in Nick Kennedy

    We have two potential world class players in Tom Croft and Ugo Monye but they have gone backwards from the Lions tour under MJs system. I hope that we will do well in the 6 nations but I am afraid that accepting mediocrity is not a good start.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Bryn.

    Interesting article. A few things though. - You discuss borthwick's lineout credentials, which I agree are good, and that he is one of the better line-out second rows in europe. I also appreciate the need for balance with it not being Simon Shaws forte. My one problem is, in my opinon the best lineout jumper in England is in fact Nick Kennedy, so despite being one of the better jumpers in Europe Borthwick is not even the best in England.

    I would like to see a shaw kennedy combination with lawes gaining experience and playing a last 20 mins with shaw tiring. In terms of captaincy I would have liked Johnson to have been bold and given it to a younger player, I'd be interested to see Dylan Hartley have a go having been very impressed by him at Northampton.

    Also I think rotating captains could have been a very good exercise for this 6nations. give moody a go, give hartley a go, easter, haskell, flutey etc. In doing so it can only help create more leaders within the squad in time for the wc next year when MJ will want to know who his best leader is.

    On the prop front, I think its quite exciting. Watched Dan Cole a few times, he's a big strong boy who looks exciting. Not seen much of Mullan but heard hes in the T. Woodman style wich is again exciting. I think it's great that they'r getting experience and probably the opportunity to put a marker down. With sheridan to come back, Julian White hanging on, and Matt Stevens to return next year we could have a really competitive front row again.

    i really hope MJ picks flutey and tait as i think it would be the first exciting centre partnership since greenwood and catt. i'd also like to see foden given a real go at 15 with the license to play like he is at Saints.

    from the squad i tink theres a lot of potential and promise. I just hope MJ has the confidence to pick them and allows them the freedom to play.

  • Comment number 7.

    Agree with most of the article, although I think England will find it harder in the lineout than last year until Croft is back playing.

    I too think that Borthwick is probably the best option for captain at the moment, and based on his performances in the AI's now just about deserves to be in the starting VX, which for me was the main reason I was against it before.

    Do not agree with you on one thing though. To say England have no world class players is incorrect. Simon Shaw must certainly be in the top three players in his position in the world (based on his proformances from the 2007 World Cup through to the Lions this past summer).

  • Comment number 8.

    Great blog Bryn, as usual. I think it's important to remember that there has not even been one muttering from the England camp regarding Borthwick, he obviously has the support of the team and has players like Moody and Wilkinson around him who are also great leaders.

    I would, however, question your statement that England do not have any players who are in the top two or three in their position in the world. Simon Shaw would, I think, get into most people's World XV at the moment, or at least their World XV squad. He is in the form of his life, and will be a very important force in the 6 Nations.

    Putting aside how I feel about having two Kiwis in the centres for England, and those feelings are not overly strong, I think the Flutey/Hape partnership could be a wonderful one for England. Hape is a class act, and has worked his way up through the Bath ranks making sure he is well versed in the dark arts of Union. He will be very, very good.

    I'd like to see Foden on the bench to come on after 60mins - Armitage surely has to start at 15 with Cueto on one wing, as you say. Ashton seems fairly one-dimensional, and I've always preferred pure pace on the wing, so I'd go with Monye on the other wing, despite his frailties.

    It's going to be a great match, I can't wait!

  • Comment number 9.

    As a wasps fan I wouldn't pick Payne who rarely seems to get out of 2nd gear and terrifies no one. I also thought Hodgson had a very poor game at the w/e against Leinster and would prefer Youngs in the absence of Simpson. D Armitage also looked to be lacking in confidence.

  • Comment number 10.


    whilst borthwick is a good lineout operator he is no better in my opinion than nick kennedy and from the games I have seem to be a good choice as captain, he doesn't appear to be able to motivate others. Like some other posters I feel that lewis moody should be given a shot at the captaincy. He was the best england player by some distance in all 3 games and always gives it 100% which others don't always seem to do.

    Croft certainly has the potential to be world class with many of his performances indicating that he is at that level already.

    I hadn't considered the absence of erinle but the fact that he is not in either the elite or Saxons squads (rightly so I believe) shows up the ridiculousness of his inclusion against the all blacks shows up johnsons short termism approach which will come back to haunt us next year in the world cup because of the lack of planning. I feel that unless England show significant improvements in both the results, performance and style of play then his future in the job must be in serious jeopardy

  • Comment number 11.

    i think i agree he is a good choice on a short term basis however from 6 nations on when we start the world cup campaign i think we need a new captain and give him enough time to establish himself in the role..
    i dont know much about forwards but i think our backline should be 10. flood 11.monye 12.flutey 13. tait 14.cueto 15.armitage

    depends with the gameplan when it comes to selection between

  • Comment number 12.

    i thin people are forgetting that mj knows what it takes to build a world cup winning side better than anybody!

    its not just about putting your best xv on the pitch and throwing someone the arm band from it. If you replace borthwick with lawes/kennedy you lose invaluable experience and a leader. All those close to borthwick, back him. Who are we to challenge that!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Back to a Bryn blog!! I love it!

    Great blog Bryn, highlighted a couple of things that widened my blinkers (slightly!) regarding Borthwick, his line-out prowess wasn't something that i'd thought about overly much when you have someone like a croft in your side, I suppose I take his skills there for granted for Tigers/England. I do still honestly believe though that when everybody is available we have much better options at lock, and that leadership is evident all over the park: Hartley/Thompson, Vickery, Shaw, Moody, Haskell, Wilko, Care(?) are all more than capable of leading a line. We'll see how Steve performs in this series, as I think that it will definately be do or die for him.

    Personally, I'd like to see Flood start ahead of Wilkinson (as he's been fantastic for the tigers since his return!) and Hipkiss retain his place at 12. Call it a Leicester bias if you must, but although he looked well out of his depth against the SH teams in the autumn, I cant remember a bad performance for Tigers since then, and he was definately one of our stand out players against Ospreys at the weekend, with a Flutey like man inside him in Staunton, then Mauger. It interests me to see what that effect could be like? Though I am a great admirer of Tait and also have huge respect for the improvement of Hape I would like to see Hipkiss given a go with Flutey inside him.

    Back row though is I think MJ's biggest conundrum! Moody is a dead cert, Easter hihgly likely at 8...but then who DO you play at 6? Haskell may be injured, Lawes is (in my opinion) definately not an international 6, and will get eaten alive by Martyn Williams! No Croft and no Worsely...Steffon Armitage seems to have disappeared and his best position is at 7, Ward-Smith may not be an international 6 either...from having a hugely promising back line we appear to have a gaping wound! A bit of a worry for me!

  • Comment number 14.

    in response to croftalicious i would say 6 is simple. if haskell is injured then chris robshaw. i think this guy is a player of real talent. if haskell starts id like to see robshaw playing 25-30 mins anyway with haskell replacing easter at 8 to give a really dynamic back row in the final quarter.

  • Comment number 15.

    This is a well thought out blog and shows how shortsighted and defensive MJ has become as a manager with Borthwick as captain and Easter at 8. When I watched England storm to the WC final in 2007, though we were well beaten, I said to myself we have some incredible young talent in the back line. Where did they all go? Tait for me was the star but obviously just being incredibly talented isn't good enough for MJ. Defence is all about spacial awareness and tackling is about technique. Size does not matter. Bet Tait doesn't get a starting place. Having seen the dismal performances of the English clubs in the Heineken Cup I can't see how England are going to win any games except maybe Italy. I hope I'm proved wrong but it looks like England are digging themselves into a deep hole and only going one way -- down.

  • Comment number 16.

    "Simon Shaw must certainly be in the top three players in his position in the world (based on his proformances from the 2007 World Cup through to the Lions this past summer)."

    he was ok in the world cup, not great but did a good job, there were better performers in the pack to be honest. i remember him being distinctly average at best in the 2008 6n's and thinking that he was too old to play so much international rugby following on from the world cup. don't think he toured nz in 2008, wasps players didn't tour did they? he didn't play much of the 2008 ai's, started palmer or kenedy, and borthwick. he didn't play all the 6n's last year either (only the last 2 games). he then toured with the lions last summer and again i wasn't as impressed as everyone else. he had one good game, wow. in the most recent ai's he only played against nz and did alright, nothing special.

    so based on that he's missed a load of matches since wc2007 and hasn't really been that consistant. i definately wouldn't consider him world class.

    would love to see tait start along with foden and ashton, but it ain't going to happen. not in a million years. i can only see johnson going with consistancy and that means the same backs from the nz game, the only changes being flutey in for erinle (thank god) and probably armitage back in at full back with cueto moving to the wing for banahan.

  • Comment number 17.

    I really dont see why people think the performances by english clubs in the heineken cup are an issue. If anything we have more strength in depth than the other nations!
    Wales only have a handful of club teams capable of playing in europe because of the regional sides. Ireland have three teams to choose its international teams from, Leinster, munster and ulster! And dont forget there are a dozen english players playing in france.So MJ has a bigger player base to choose from than the other 6N coaches

  • Comment number 18.

    14. At 10:40pm on 26 Jan 2010, lukesblog88 dotcom wrote:

    I am quite a fan of Robshaw, however it appears, again, that Johnno has overlooked him as an "inexperienced" player. Typical of what is fast looking like another softly, softly approach to the 6N series. I think that this hesitence may well undermine any potential for improvement and innovation in the side, which, for me, is pretty much going to kill any chances we have for success now, and in building up to the world cup in 18 months.

    Also, I correct my own mistake: I meant to say I'd like to see Hipkiss retain his place at 13, not 12! With Tait certain to come on if things start to look worrying.

  • Comment number 19.

    I can see where Johnson is coming from with his decision, and i guess he is looking to instil some stability that England have not had since 2003, however i do not understand why Simon Shaw has not been mentioned as a possible short term captain, he commands authority, add to that his experience and his form in the lion series, and what could go wrong, he is surely on everyone's team sheet as a definite starter?

    Appointing Shaw at captain would open the gate for one of our up and coming second rows, i personally favour Lawes, but i am also a fan of nick Kennedy, who i believe has to be one of the best line-out jumpers in the world!

    having outlined shaws suitability to captain for this tournament, i believe that in fact englands long term captain should be Tom Rees, dependant of course on his recovery. i think appointing him once he is back and fully fit and established again within the side, he has the head on his shoulders to be able to take the lead.

    this prompts discussion as to who englands back row should be when rees fully fit again, the way i see it there are four back rowers worthy of an England place, namely, Croft, Haskell, Moody and Rees. i haven't watched much of any of them apart from Haskell play 8, but i believe he is a work in progress, and is not quite ready to make the 8 jersey his own. also the hopeful inclusion of rees would mean either moody or croft taking a seat on the bench, and with moodys form i dont see that player being him! but then you loose the line out option of croft.

    of course a lot of the players i am putting in to the frame, are either injured or coming back from injury, therefore pointless at this time, but looking to the future this is how i see it going. anyone strongly agree or disagree?

  • Comment number 20.

    just to clarify, where i said "ihave only seen haskell at 8" i meant he was the only specialist number 8, i have seen the others play very well on the flanks.

  • Comment number 21.

    I hate to sound like a rugby supporter and demand a change of manager at the drop of a hat, but the reappointment of an average player and an average captain highlights that MJ isn't up to the job.

    The argument that only rugby insiders know Borthwick's true value doesn't really stack up. If it were true then why was Borthwick the only home nations captain that wasn't selected for the lions tour and didn't seem to be anywhere on their radar.

    Sadly Borthwick, and many of the other selections, seem to be very like the England on field strategy - safe, unlikely to embarrass, not very bright, not at all original and unlikely to win.

  • Comment number 22.

    Cheers Bryn, good blog. I think you've hit the nail on the head re Borthwick's captaincy - he is being judged on England's results rather than opn his own merits. This is understandable but also unfair - I don't think that any captain would have been able to turn England's defeats in recent years into victories solely by dint of their leadership on the pitch. As you have pointed out, the players have not yet been good enough. MJ's only alternative option would have been to chop and change captains every time we lost a couple of games on the bounce and this would have done nothing for the team cause except add confusion.

    Borthwick is not the perfect captain a al MJ, but he is an honest man doing an honest job and this is enough to gain the respect of your team. The line-out stat from last years 6N was something I hadn't heard before either! If I could have one improvement in Borthwick it would be that he is able to be more flexible in terms of gameplan when on the pitch. In November it was clear that England played each match with a specific gameplan (which is what you'd expect). The problems occured when it became clear that the plan wasn't working. In those circumstances you can't wait for instructions from the bench and I would want the captain to take the bull by the horns and be prepared to change things there and then.

    Anyway, I've paid my £80 for Twickenham so I think that MJ owes me a few favours and here they are:

    1 - Start with Coles in the front row. We're not going to match the Welsh front row for grunt or experience (in terms of playing together), so lets match them for effort and mobility. The mobility is absolutely key to ensuring that England are able to recycle quickly from the rucks and if we can't do this then we have no hope against the Welsh. Agree with the other points made about Coles above. He has been excellent this season and - and this is the key - he is improving game by game.

    2 - Tait at outside centre. I do worry about his defensive ability, esp. in the face of Jamie Roberts, but I think its time to start taking the odd gamble. As much as Wales are capable of playing a superb running and handling game, they do not look so composed when defending one. In addition, as good a player ass Flutey is I don't think he offers anything special or out of the ordinary. He will only look world class if he has players around him that offer something different. Wilko doesn't but Tait could. Some gambles are worth taking.

    3 - I know Worsley isn't available to do another hatchet job on Roberts, but its a threat that we do need to counter. Ignore the accusations of negativity. If you're trying to nullify your oppositions strengths in order to win a game, I see that as a positive move..... haven't got any bright ideas myself though!

    Good luck England.... think we might need it!

    Oh, one last question. Bearing in mind half-time entertainment is all the rage at major sporting events these days, can I ask who would like to see Martin Johnson and Shaun Edwards in an old-school bare-knuckle scrap during the interval? Would pay the admission fee for that alone!

  • Comment number 23.

    Thanks for all your comments. Apologies for the delay in replying as I've come down with a lurgy since I wrote this blog. But to respond to a few of your points...

    RE: Nos 1 and No 5 - Dan, I disagree. I think a player has to be sure of his place to be given the captaincy. That is why you saw Warren Gatland hesitate before reappointing Ryan Jones last year because at the time Ryan's own form wasn't great and there was a possibility he might not make the team.

    Johnson had been a fixture in the England team for four years in 1997 and was always going to start the Lions Tests, when Geech chose him as captain instead of Dallaglio, who was leading England at the time. He'd won 40-plus caps for England when he took over from Dallaglio as skipper in 1999.

    Carling was obviously a gamble when he was given the captaincy at 22 in 1988 after barely half-a-dozen caps, but presumably Geoff Cooke felt he was going to be a fixture in the team, and he was for the next nine years.

    Peter - I don't think you can compare rugby and cricket in terms of the captaincy. Brearley was obviously a great England captain who could be accommodated to ensure the stars such as Botham in the side at that time performed. Test-match rugby is completely different - if you're not up to it physically and mentally, you get found out very quickly.

    At the Six Nations launch on Weds morning, Johnson talked about a leadership group of Borthwick, Moody, Wilkinson, Easter, Shaw and Cueto. Interestingly, he also mentioned Dylan Hartley as another player showing similar maturity since taking over as Northampton skipper. The other six may not have much of a shelf life after the 2011 World Cup, so if you were looking for a long-term choice, Hartley - who's 24 in March - could be the man.

    RE Nos 6, 7 and 8. I agree re: Nick Kennedy. I thought he was very unlucky to be dropped last year after making a good impression in his early Tests, but Johnson seems to have an issue with his all-round game, because he's surely the best line-out jumper in England.

    In relation to Simon Shaw, yes, I guess you could argue he is world class, certainly in those last two Lions Tests in the summer. Shame it's taken until he is well into his 30s for him to be truly appreciated, although a certain MJ had a lot to do with that. Talking to Shaw a few months ago, he didn't see any reason why he shouldn't carry on until next year's World Cup.

    Tom Croft could certainly be world class before long if England can find a way to get the best out of him as the Lions did.

    Johnson said yesterday that Haskell should be fit to face Wales by the way, so I'd expect him to play at blind-side alongside Moody and Easter.

  • Comment number 24.

    Thanks for the response Bryn, we will agree to disagree, I think MJ being made Lions skipper after about 25 caps in an, until then, undistinguished career (many thought him as much as a liability as an asset) is one massive punt and that is what made him. The MJ of the Lions tour and afterwards was the MJ that went on the win the RWC.
    I agree (as you state with Carling) that the manager has to see something in a player that he thinks will make him a natural shoe in and also a natural leader - and then perhaps take a chance if there is no stand out in the current team. There is nothing stand out about Borthwick. His line out stats are good, but when do you see him talking to his team, controlling affairs on teh pitch, leading by example bu making the big hits, the hard yards or speaking to ref with anything except a hang dog look on his face?

    In addition to that, having him there hamstrings our selection of the other 2nd row - in my opinion Kennedy is easily as good in the line out and while MJ views him as too lightweight he does more round the park than Borthwick and could be accommodated alongside the bulk of Shaw. We have a quality old warhorse of a 2nd row in Shaw and an ideal opportunity to bring through a young talent (Kennedy/Lawes/Gaskill) and we are not taking at at precisely the time we should be...

  • Comment number 25.

    Hipkiss at 13 - please god no. No disrespect to the guy, but surely we need to be looking at someone who can make a break with something close to pace. Tait or maybe Hape, with Cueto and Monye outside - forget Bananaman, one trick pony and much as it pains me to say it, Flood at 10, looking ahead to the next world cup as by then JW will be out of the reckoning.

  • Comment number 26.

    "The argument that only rugby insiders know Borthwick's true value doesn't really stack up. If it were true then why was Borthwick the only home nations captain that wasn't selected for the lions tour and didn't seem to be anywhere on their radar."

    @ imd321

    As was commented in the main article, England are struggling for truly world class players at the moment. The fact that Borthwick isn't one of the 5 best locks in Britain and Ireland does not entirely remove the possibility of him being the 2nd best lock in England. Which all things considered, I think he probably is.

    He would also have been competing for a test place against Paul O'Connell, who not only *is* world class, he was also the captain.

  • Comment number 27.

    as a Hooker I'm always keen to have my best jumper playing, it takes a lot of pressure off me and allows me to concentrate on other areas of my game. In the case of Mears and Thompson I'm sure they'd agree that having someone as solid and dependable as Borthwick there means that they can focus on being more useful in the loose. I think that Moody would be burdened as captain, and that unless you played Nick Kenedy with Shaw you lose the very strong weapon of Englands lineout.

    Andrew Sheridan is possibly the only other real captain option when he returns from injury, as he is a guarenteed starter and can bring that intimidation factor that Johnson had

  • Comment number 28.

    I am not sure that all the posters have really "taken on board" (I hate that phrase- but it has crept into current usage) the point that the article made about Borthwick and the line-out.. It is not a question of how many line-outs he takes himself, but how he organises the whole line-out- its disposition, calls, lifters, catchers etc in a cat and mouse game in which these days opposition teams have people with boom microphones to pick up calls, fit them to video analysis, and brief their pack at the interval.. This may have had something to do with the incident between Borthwick and the mike-man in the Ireland match last year. From what I remember Borthwick set up catches for Croft probably more than himself last 6N-- like MJ keeping for himself the crucial responsibility for key defensive line-outs.

    I may be wrong but I do not get the impression that Kennedy is a line-out general in this way.. And, of course, part of that generalship is winning opposition ball, or at least disrupting it.

    As for Borthwick's general play, I remember Sir Clive, as he was not back then, selecting a very young Borthwick to go to South Africa, saying that he could play in the back row if necessary. In this capacity he is perhaps more in the Joe Worsley mould of solid defense than in the Dallaglio mould.. But rock solid defence is not a negibible asset and Borthwick complements Shaw very well, the 'Big Man' can usually be trusted to "take it to" the opposition.


  • Comment number 29.

    I simply do not agree with the statement in this article, "The main problem, as it was for Corry, is not Borthwick himself, but the dearth of class around him." This misses the point entirely. Borthwick is a good player, he is not a good leader.

    England have some top class players - I'd agree, not the world class outfit they were in 2003 - but that's not the problem. I don't think the problem with Borthwick is Borthwick the player, it's Borthwick the leader. He simply fails to show any leadership what so ever. This has clearly been worked on, I recall the referee being assertive to Borthwick to the point where Nick Easter had to try to influence the ref..."out of the way skips, let me talk to him" he must have thought, he did and it worked. In the last couple of games Borthwick has been more vocal with the ref, but when the going gets tough he disappears again.

    Pick Borthwick the player and I don't think anyone would have a problem with the selection; might not be everyone's first choice, but I don't think they would argue too hard. Pick Borthwick the captain, the leader - oh dear oh dear oh dear. Jonno can't do anything when the boys are on the field, and Borthwick offers nothing. Is this Jonno's bloody mindedness again; like the magnificent player and leader he was, he won't be bullied by others into dropping Borthwick, but how does he drop him from that role now without losing face?

  • Comment number 30.

    Personally i wouldn't have Brothwick as a player in my squad. I think he is too safe and enjoy's slow ball. The game of rugby now is much quicker and you need players to last the full 80 minutes running around making big tackles & stealing ball. Brothwick just doesn't have that part to his game. He may be the best leader in the squad but he isn't playing the rugby england need to play to win matches.
    I'd have a line up of:
    1. Payne (Sheridan if fit)
    2. Hartely
    3. Wilson
    4. Lawes
    5. Shaw
    6. Haskell/Worsely
    7. Moody
    8. Easter (Capt)

    9. Care
    10. Wilkinson
    11. Cueto
    12. Flutey
    13. Hape
    14. Ashton
    15. Armitage

  • Comment number 31.

    i just dont get it with danny care. He's lively and likes a 'tap and go', but you need a lot more from a test match scrum half. I think we need to stick with hodgson until ben youngs is ready for test rugby. And I dont think that Hape is worthy of a test match start. dont get me wrong, he could be useful but to throw him in for a test match start?! I also think that Gethin and co might make tim payne look a bit silly at scrummage time


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