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Borthwick pays price as ruthless Johnson wields axe

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Bryn Palmer | 21:59 UK time, Thursday, 1 July 2010

About time too.

That seems to be the reaction of most England fans as they digest an elite player squad featuring a raft of exciting newcomers but missing the player who has led them through the dark ages of the past two years.

Steve Borthwick may not be everyone's cup of tea, or Horlicks for that matter, but it was hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for the Saracens lock on Thursday.

England captain for 20 Tests in a row until three months ago, when a knee injury effectively ended his season, he is now not even considered among the best four locks in the country.

Talk about a crash landing. It borders on humiliating, even if the player himself is a humble soul who doesn't seek the limelight. He will be hurting, though, make no mistake.

But does Borthwick's swift demise signal a sea-change in thinking on the part of England manager Martin Johnson and his coaching staff, a belated removal of the blinkers?

Or is this move a tacit admission - not one ever likely to be acknowledged publicly - that Johnson invested his faith in the wrong man all along?

Back at the end of January, I defended the choice of Borthwick as captain for the Six Nations opener against Wales on the grounds that in the context of a must-win match against a side with a notoriously flaky line-out, and with Tom Croft absent injured, it was the only sane short-term choice.

Steve Borthwick remonstrates with referee Marius Jonker in his last Test, a 15-15 draw with ScotlandBorthwick never appeared fully in control in his on-field captaincy (Picture: Getty)

If the subsequent performances against Italy, Ireland and Scotland were excruciatingly painful at times, the blame could hardly be laid squarely at the captain's door.

It wasn't Borthwick who ignored the obvious flaws in England's game and selection and waited until the final match of the campaign against France to introduce Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Toby Flood to the backline, add some beef (Simon Shaw) and athleticism (Tom Palmer) to the second row and get a pack with Lewis Moody restored as a specialist open-side flanker generating quick ball for those backs to play with.

The captain was the poor sap asked to explain away one dismal collective performance after another with as positive a spin as he could muster, only serving to concentrate even further the derision aimed in his direction.

His misfortune - if leading your country on 21 occasions can be called that - lay as much in a lack of a coherent game-plan and genuine star quality as it did in his own deficiencies.

The presence of Johnson only served to underline the perceived differences between the manager as we remember him - a dominating player and triumphant captain with half-a-dozen world-class lieutenants to help him - and Borthwick, the worthy and diligent professional but uninspiring captain of a mediocre team.

That was then. After the poverty of the drawn game at Murrayfield in March, and faced with the prospect of a damaging defeat against the Six Nations champions-elect in Paris, Johnson finally threw caution to the wind after two years of conservative selection and tactics.

With Borthwick sidelined, a revamped side rallied around stand-in skipper Moody and gave supporters a hint of what might have been, and what could still be, in the Stade de France despite being on the wrong end of the scoreline.

After some ragged displays against the Australian Barbarians on tour and a dim-witted first Test display in Perth, despite a dominant scrum, Johnson again belatedly bowed to what most observers and fans had demanded for months with the introduction of scrum-half Ben Youngs and thrusting young lock Courtney Lawes in Sydney.

Suddenly England looked a half-decent side again, and their first significant victory since the 2007 World Cup raised hopes that maybe a third successive final at next year's global jamboree is not the outlandish ambition it might have seemed six months ago.

More significantly perhaps, and possibly the nail in Borthwick's coffin, was the return to prime form of Croft. The way he roamed the line-out from front to middle and back suggested the Lions flanker - rather than the locks - holds the key to England's aerial prosperity, the area in which Borthwick traditionally thrived.

With Lawes and Palmer bringing greater dynamism to the second-row effort, Dave Attwood offering similar levels of grunt and aggression to Lawes and Geoff Parling also in the selection mix, many will conclude Borthwick's Test career is all but over.

Personally, I wouldn't be too quick to write off the Cumbrian just yet.

He may not be the engine-room enforcer England required in their time of need but with Palmer the only recognized line-out operator among the four locks selected, and Shaw two months away from his 37th birthday, a strong start to the season for Saracens could see Borthwick only an injury or two away from returning to the fold.

After all he does have 57 caps to his name, and with the obvious exception of Shaw, all the others are relative novices in the international arena.

The good news for red rose supporters is that this latest elite squad, which will form the basis of the 30-man World Cup squad in 14 months' time, suggests England are far closer to being considered a credible force at that tournament than they were six months ago.

The front-row options look strong with the return of a fit-again Andrew Sheridan, a rejuvenated Steve Thompson competing with his old Northampton understudy Dylan Hartley at hooker and the emergence of Dan Cole as the cornerstone of the pack.

The second row - as already discussed - has more mongrel and menace about it and it will be interesting to see if Leeds tyro Hendrie Fourie can translate his impressive skill-set to the Test arena, having leapfrogged Steffon Armitage as the open-side understudy to Moody, with Tom Rees also waiting in the wings.

England chief Martin Johnson (right) with forwards coach John Wells (centre) and defence coach Mike Ford (left)Johnson (right) has made a tough decision in axeing his captain (Photo: Getty Images)

To this observer, England still need a more dynamic number eight - wouldn't Dan Ward-Smith, named in the Saxons squad, have been a more ambitious selection, even if he has been playing more at lock lately? - and more invention at centre, where there is plenty of brawn but perhaps not enough guile to open up the best defences.

With Olly Barkley not making either squad and Mathew Tait demoted after sadly looking too lightweight down under, England appear to have decided they will get their imagination and inspiration from other parts of the team.

You could also argue other choices - Is Matt Banahan an international wing? Does Joe Worsley still merit a place when Croft and James Haskell are already there? - but overall the blend of youthful thrusters and old hands appears to be coming together.

The most pertinent question though remains: is it all too late for 2011?

Is a dozen more Tests - four this autumn, five in the Six Nations and three summer warm-ups - enough for this group to establish the attacking coherence, winning mentality and hard edge required to challenge the Springboks and All Blacks in New Zealand?

Even allowing for the thrilling potential of Cole, Lawes, Youngs, Foden and Ashton, World Cups are generally won by teams with a hoard of caps in their lockers rather than ones with a core of the side still making their way in the international arena.

The 2015 tournament, on home soil, may offer richer possibilities. But the green shoots of recovery are already evident, with a more fertile landscape on the horizon.


  • Comment number 1.

    Here here! Borthwick's anodyne interviews on the pitch post-drab display after drab display confirmed ages ago that he was not a dynamic leader. His performances haven't been great either. He was non-existent for Saracens in the GP Final (admittedly after a long spell on the sidelines) and hasn't been making waves anywhere else. I don't think it'll be the end for him internationally but the break from it and inevitable loss of responsibility will hopefully spur him on. There is no denying that he is a great player when on form. Alas, he hasn't been on form for a while.

  • Comment number 2.

    I tend to agree. I think captains (and most leaders) tend to lead in one of two ways, either by the impact of their efforts and performance - leading by example if you like (Moody being a case in point...also the likes of Beckham & Flintoff) these sorts of captains are great when things are going well as they carry the team to an extent and they tend to be infectious characters, as 'one of the team' and will encourage expression, taking chances and positive thinking - the problem can come when they are not plying well and they may struggle to positively impact those around them.

    On the other hand there are those that lead by their presence, or aura - they command respect and are perhaps more natural leaders...Dallaglio, Adams, Hussain etc. These captains are more authoritarian and perhaps demanding...this can be useful to drag an ailing side to be competitive or raise it's game under pressure to the best out of each man but they do not necessarily inspire those around them and any negativity in the team can quickly cause issues...people often play in fear of making mistakes rather than embracing chances they encounter.

    Of course the best captains have both - they command respect but also lead by their own high standards and increase the level of those around them...(Johnson & Vaughan spring to mind).

    Borthwick does not strike me as either...his performances are generally 'ok' he'll rarely get less than 6/10 but rarely get more than 8/10...but I also don't feel like youngsters coming into the team look up to him after 65 minutes when we're 5 points down and are inspired to raise their game or equally that he would turn round to anyone of them and give them the rocket they need you know where, to step up and perform (Josh Lucy to Danny Cipriani anybody!!!)

    I have sympathy though as Johnson's job was made much easier by having the likes of Dallaglio, Leonard, Hill, Wilkinson, Dawson around him which Borthwick simply can't compete with - I hope he finds his form and is knocking on the door (even if he doesn't make it)

  • Comment number 3.

    I would just like to answer one of the questions that you posed, No Matt Banahan is not an International winger. Unfortunately, we are too busy in trying to find the "English Jonah Lomu" to realise that he doesn't have the skill set to be an international winger. He is very one dimensional, a winger that always looks for contact. Some people might have said that Ben Cohen was the same, but I disagree. In his prime Ben Cohen could be used as a battering ram, but could also offload and be a creator (I can't believe I have said that, as I have spent my life in his later career slating him). To Matt Banahan's credit he does get on the score sheet a lot, but unfortunately International teams will be too good and more than able to combat his one dimensional game. I hope that he does start to create that extra dimension, as he has potential to be a great asset to the England team, but at this point in time he is not.

    I do feel sorry for Steve Borthwick, he has helped England through his leadership through a difficult transition period, but unfortunately it was from a position that he was no longer one of the best in that position, it was the same with Martin Corry.

  • Comment number 4.

    I have to say that the omission of Barkley is a great surprise to me, when you consider that the England backline has spluttered for some time i would have thought England would need to look at all creative options. I concede that Barkley was taken to Australia but was then only given a place in the midweek team, which suggests that whilst acknowledging his good form at the end of last season, the coaches had already made their minds up.

    Regarding Borhwick, it appears that he has been the player who has to carry the can for England's dismal results in the past, whilst i agree he may not be the most dynamic of players he is surely in the top four locks.

    Overall i still think England haven't moved toward a settled team and i fear for our prospects.

  • Comment number 5.

    Borthwick is competing with the likes of Lawes, Palmer, Shaw, Attwood, Parling, Deacon, Ward-Smith, Nick Kennedy and even Tom Croft for the 2nd row positions, which now I've listed it looks pretty competitive, would need to challenge the VERY best lineouts though. The scrum needs to be just as good if not better (not sure it is just yet) - both need to be consistent if England are to progress, which they finally look like they are. Still 1 or 2 old 'friends' who Johnson hasn't been as ruthless with as he has been with Borthwick, can't see the point of having Worsley taking a place in the squad, by all means take him to World Cup for a specific job, but why use his place up when we could have a younger player in gaining experience, maybe even Easter falls into that category?

  • Comment number 6.

    I do see a bit of sympathy for Borthwick but then again he was always filling a gap to allow others to come through. He's only made it to the top because of retirements and there was genuinely no one else. I don't see what he offers that the young bucks do, so sorry pal, thanks but time to move over. (Not meant to sound as harsh, but it's early and only just found coffee!).

    Browna1911 - I'm with you on Banahan, never been a fan. His style of play just doesn't encourage me. That said, you have to consider the side (England) he's played in. The slow, turgid plodders who create nothing and give their wingers scraps at best to feed on. With this new look England (I say that with tongue planted firmly in my cheek) there may be a chance of quick ball along the line to give MB genuinely decent ball. If he blows that, then def ditch him.

    Wouldn't be my choice, I prefer the nimble, quick footed wingers (Strettle) who can step of their line through a hole and in for the try.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thank goodness the blogs and posts have returned to sanity now we have won down under. The general concensus seems to be that Johnson and the coaches got the EPS more or less right;

    Borthwick - unfairly scapegoated for poor team performances but now Laws is starting to fulfill potential and live up to the hype he doesnt merit an EPS place. Battling with Dan Ward Smith and Parling for 5th choice!

    Barkley - the biggest shock as he is not even in the Saxons squad! Did the coaches spot something they dont like in character or technique! Actually a big boost to the Saxons as good performances in the Saxons may have outweighed average performances in senior midweek team!

    Banahan - surprised at his inclusion! He is effective for Bath and creates space by standing up and off loading but he has looked out of depth at Test level.

    No 8 - Perhaps now the most worrying position in terms of cover. Easter on form is a very intelligent and effective player but we dont seem to have the dynamic No 8 that other Test sides do. Unfortunately Dan Ward Smith hasnt returned to the same level he reached before his knee operation. Haskell and Worsley will do a job but we need Narraway to step up or maybe Dowson can switch to 8?

  • Comment number 8.

    This is my first post so hope its coherent

    There seem to be a few comparisons with the situation that the French squad found themselves in a year or two ago. When Lievremont came it took him a while to build his team. I remember him getting crucified in the french press, who were calling for his head at one point too (just like in the UK with Johnson) He had no apparent game-plan and kept chopping and changing his squad.

    He also had a captain in Lionel Nallet who seemed to sum up the incoherent situation perfectly. But then Nallet got injured, lost his place and Lievremont settled on a mix of youth and experience and found a worthy captain in the Dark Destroyer (Thierry Dusautoir). They clicked when they beat NZ away and everyone forgot all about how dire they had been up to then(the pasting they got at Twickenham being the lowest point) Victory against SA and they suddenly became the most potent NH team (granted things seem to be going a little pear-shaped recently with loss to argentina)

    So let's hope that this is the same kind of defining moment for England (By the way Nallet got back into the team after a while and started playing magnificently once freed of the pressure of captaincy so there is still hope for Steve which I would like to see as he is a decent guy afterall)


  • Comment number 9.

    When on form Borthwick can be a stalwart, but unfortunately he has been struggling over the last 18 months with fatigue and injury, namely that knee injury which he eventually had surgery on. Borthers is an imposing figure with a cool head, but when a player is struggling for form it is even more difficult to inspire your fellow players, the decision to drop him is the right one. He needs to focus on finding his fitness and form again without the pressure of the international arena. if he can show that, Johnson will pull him back in, simply because he will be one of the top four locks again. i dont think he will be captain again, but then again i never thought he should be, mainly because he never had the two character traits discussed above, i always felt Moody should be, or maybe sheridan if he hadnt been injured. The squad looks good and exciting and whilst i dont expect any special from the autumn, 1 or possibly 2 wins from 4, as the team will still be finding its feet together, i think we will be competitive come the six nations and that will be the benchmark from which to launch for the summer warm up games going into the WC.

  • Comment number 10.

    The EPS always seems like a strange idea. Effectively you are picking your squad from performances the previous season. And you also have to take a punt on players who haven't played for the year who you believe are who you want - Sheridan and Fluety.

    Having said all this the squad is never going to please everyone but I am struggling to see the shape that England want to play in the backs. Particularly with the centres picked. They seem to be very keen to retain Fluety so we have a creator at 12 to pair with a basher but should he be injured then we seem to be back to a couple of bashers (Hape & Tindall). And I don't quite see where Waldock fits in with the others selected. I guess that Barkley must have done something that seriously annoyed the management.

    I also cannot see how D Armitage kept his place in the top squad above Goode.

    Anyway doesn't matter who you select, if you coach them to produce slow ball, sit back in defence and play a poor kicking game with a worse chase then they will lose. I think that this is the bigger problem than a couple of players here and there.

  • Comment number 11.

    Johnson is a tortoise when it comes to selection and often, as is the case with Borthwick, will persist with a player even if it is cutting off his nose to spite his face. Just so he isn`t seen as stepping down. Its really painful to suffer through.

    This has given him the perfect opportunity to shift Steve `is he dead?` Borthwick into the saxons.

    The problem players that remain who are not good enough for international rugby are Easter, Hape and Payne.
    Unfortunately Hape has just joined the party! However, hopefully Narraway can stay fit and sneak in for the 6N at 8 so we dont have the least effective 8 in the tournament again (backed up by stats). Payne is doing his job so doesn`t deserve too much flak but will be filtered out for Sheridan and perhaps Golding.

    One other quibble, no Dickson in the Saxons? He looked excellent in the Churchill Cup whereas Wigglesworth is so very ordinary.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think Jonno has realized that with just over 12 months to the world cup, he cannot afford for England to stand still. England will always be more than competitive in the forwards, but we certainly need some game winners and creativity in the backs. I am excited by the inclusions of Youngs, Strettle, Waldouck, Ashton and Foden. We now at least look like we have backs that can create something.
    The second row options look young, fresh and dynamic (with age being the exception for Shaw). They look like players moulded the same way as Johnson. Agressive, attritional and not willing to take a step backwards. In the front row we have a great mixture of youth and experience giving great options and a real dynamism.
    My only concern is real quality in the back row. Croft is excellent, Easter and Moody do a good job on their days, but I am concerned at 8. Hopefully people like Fourie can prove their worth, Haskell will start playing like we know he can and Ward-Smith can push Easter.
    Other than that I believe we should be positive about the future of the England team. One thing you can always count on the rugby players, unlike the footballers, they will put their bodies on the line, playing with pride and passion for the shirt!!
    Good Luck lads and show those footballers what it means to play for your country.

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks for all your comments so far.

    Re No 2 - freddiesarmchairfan - some interesting thoughts on captaincy. Personally I'm not totally convinced - and I'm not sure Johnson is - that Moody is the answer long-term, although since he might not go on much beyond next year's World Cup anyway, maybe he doesn't need to be. Any thoughts on who might be the best alternatives/contenders?

    Re No 4 - Blue_White_and_Black and No 7 - Givemeenoughrope - Agree Barkley's omission from both squads is probably the biggest surprise. Either they don't see him as a viable option to play outside Flood or Wilkinson, they want a more physical threat at 12, or they spotted something they didn't like on tour. Personally I feel he's an ideal option for the match-day 22 from the bench, but anyway...

    Re No 8 - ANDY - Congratulations on your first post! There are indeed similarities in character between Borthwick and Nallet, who was one of the un-sung heroes of France's Grand Slam campaigns. Be nice to think Borthwick could come back and make a similar contribution for England.
    But as No 5 - Joshua_Libby - points out, the competition for places in the second row is very competitive now. Nick Kennedy didn't even make the Saxons squad either.

    Re: No 10 - twoeightnine - a very valid point about the EPS. But the agreement between the RFU and the clubs stipulates that the RFU informs them which players are likely to be involved with England during the season, so they can plan ahead. But as we've seen in recent seasons, things can change very quickly. Players get injured, others lose form, replacements are required. and Johnson and co. usually find a way of getting the players they want into the elite squad. The Saxons are fairly irrelevant until January and February, when they play a couple of games, other than training-ground fodder for squad get-togethers. It's more an indication of which players are next in line if there any injuries in the elite squad.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think everone should bare in mind that none of us have played under Borthwick. Butch James (world cup winner) rates Borthwick as a better captain than John Smit (world cup winning captain!). I would take his word over any journalist. I feel that Borthwick has been made a scapegoat for the failing Johnson regime. This allways happens with England captains and England fly-halves; because England play poorly they get all the blame i.e. Corry, Vickery, Robinson and all others post Johnson. The same will happen to Moody if England do not progress. It isn't right though because England's problems are deeper than who is captain.

  • Comment number 15.

    It is a shame that the changes only seem to happen when there is a big enough public voice screaming for them, take youngs and lawes for example. But change can be good, Danny Care played with much more pace in the Maori game then he had in the all his previous tests, a direct result of being dropped. In Borthwicks case I think the strength in depth is too overwhelming, that said his experience will be good in the saxons.

    Shaw, Easter, Chuter, Worsley, Fourie - They to should all be gone from the EPS.
    Shaw simply cannot sustain a run of games and it is unfair for him to continually break his body when we should be looking at the younger more mobile locks available.
    Easter is a throw back to the Dean Richards lumbering No 8, just not as good, if you want someone to make hard yards and do the hard work pick Jordan Crane, if you want a number 8 who is going to make quick breaks and be part of a looser back row pick Ward-Smith or Haskell.
    Fourie is a experiment not worth undertaking when when you can name a handful of back row players equally as good and younger with more promise for the future.
    There is nothing wrong with George Chuter he is an excellent hooker, I simply don't think picking him for the EPS is a positive forward looking decision
    Worsley - Again someone who can do a job if you want the opposition tackled all day, but creativity is not his strongest attribute, and there are younger better, if less experienced back row players available.

    The direction Johnson and co are going is right, but they need to continue to wield the knife and do so before the weight of public opinion forces them.

    One final area I would examine is the coaching staff, are the current coaching set the best people to get the best out of the players or should they be examined in as much detail as we have done so with the players. I would value your opinion on this area Bryn.

  • Comment number 16.

    I can feel for Borthwick for the rapidity of his demise but that has to be set against some pretty average displays but as lock and captain.
    I can't see Johnno going beyond Moody as captain before and at the World Cup. After the World Cup I'd not be surprised if Croft gets the nod (yes he's not mcuh captaincy experience yet but then neither did Johnno when he took the Lions to South Africa).

  • Comment number 17.

    @ #3, browna1911, I couldn't agree more re: Banaham and Cohen. Banahan is a slower version with lesser handling skills and game awareness. Cohen was a monster before going off the boil post-2003.

  • Comment number 18.

    I never thought that Borthwick was as bad as he was made out to be at times, and he did have his supporters. But the question is was he missed in England's last few games and the answer is no - not at all.

  • Comment number 19.

    Everyone seems so relieved that we finally seem to have a credible EPS! Shouldn't we be questioning why it has taken our illustrious coaches so long to come up with a squad that most of us could have come up with long ago.

    Honestly - one fortuitous, narrow victory in Aus and suddenly everything is rosy! Johnson has only made the changes that we have all advocated (and which has been proven successful by hindsight too) when left with no other options. Hardly the stamp of a top flight selector or coach.

  • Comment number 20.

    I think Johnson's selections show the style of game England are going to try and play - power and close passing/offloads as opposed to wide passing. He will look for the team to move the ball across the pitch through numerous phases until a hole appears. That hole could be close or wide but it is increasingly rare in any international to see teams go round the outside. Hence the 'handlers' are gone from the squad in favour of the 'punch runners' and this style is underlined by the nature of the tries scored on this tour. I for one think this is England's best way of playing and it closely matches the style of the glory days. The challenge now will be to make sure we are getting the offloads away and rucking on the front foot so we can put some momentum on the game.

  • Comment number 21.

    My 2nd rows would have been Kennedy, Parling, Attwood and Lawes. For me, Borthwick just doesn't cut it and the Saxons is probably the best place for him. Then you have the likes of Skivington and even Ward-Smith who can cover the position and for me, they all do a better job.

  • Comment number 22.

    I wish that we didn't seem obsessed with giant wingers - defenders are so good now that battering ram wingers don't have the same effect that they do at club level. The best wingers of recent times have been fast guys who get into the right places - Shane Williams and Bryan Habana. If our backs behaved like backs a bit more instead of constantly being in the middle of rucks, we might also avoid the embarrasment of our forwards in the middle of when we do attempt passing moves. It would be nice to see more skill players to give us that option to change it up when the forward game just isn't working - especially at 12.

  • Comment number 23.

    Why is everyone slating Easter. He was man of the match against Australia. He might not be the quickest but as great hands and does a lot of stuff around the park. I think calling on the likes of ward smith who hasn't been playing there all season is silly and haskell is uselss. All he does is gives penalties away. He has played ok for England once and that was against Wales when he scored twice. As for the squad it looks good with good balance. Would like to see strettle play as beleive he is the only winger we have who could score a try out of nothing.

  • Comment number 24.

    Surely Borthwick's initial selection by MJ owed omething to the fact that he was/is generally rated by his club mates to be a really good captain. He was rated at Bath and nothing that has happened at Saracens, where the squad is packed with South Africans, has really challenged that situation.

    But as "the special on" said recently about the European Cup Final in the other football game , club-teams are very often better than national teams. English Premiereship rugby especially has seen a great deal of squad enhancement by imported players, and fortunately some of them have taken the chance to get qualified for England..

    The problem of any kind of assembly line for English sportsmen and women is a very old one; and it is noticeable that an outstanding young talent like Ben Youngs is following in his father's footsteps.

    All this surely made the job of captaincy, and team selection quite difficult-- especially for the novice MJ, who has been thrown into the "front line" because the "assembly line" for coaches is no better than that for players. At least part of MJ's education and development was in New Zealand, but there is a whole system and culture there.

    So England have struggled to find any coherent style of play, apart from forward huddles in the catch and drive Leicester tradition: and it is not obvious that Borthwick had many "tricks" or cards to play in "his hand". To some extent the Borthwick era may come to look like the traditional English "Last Ditch stand"-- a determination to not let England's decline go any further after the 2007 RWC squad had to fall back on the remnants of the 2003 generation.. much as Senior Capello tried- and succeded in the case of Carragher- to persuade football veterans out of international retirement.

    Borthwick's position, however, as the article points out in part, was jeopardised by the emerging England back-row, especially Croft and Easter. It has been very obvious that any control or intelligence in England's play was likely to come from Easter, in spite of his Dean Richard's-type limitations. One might give another example in the mature John Scott.

    Brains and hands at 8 are tremendously important (just as well Andy Powell may go to RL), and as the Scott-Norster combination showed at Cardiff, such a number eight opens the way for a dynamic and athletic second row. Given Croft's line-out ability, allied with that of Easter who was one of our most secure jumpers in the last RWC- (and not forgetting that I seem to remember that THE drop-goal that won the RWC in 2003 came from a Moody-line-out take) Borthwick's expertise may well be less crucial.

    But I do not think that it should be ignored that Borthwick and other experienced internationals are still in the Saxons squad. The elite squad have a chance to build on the summer, but there is many a slip etc.

  • Comment number 25.

    I still can't understand why Johnno is not giving the man of the moment Olly Barkley more of a go. The guy has been in terrific form and provides a cool head in the midfield. Tindall was a bull dozer in AUS but looking at the other options I'm looking toward Hape and Barkley or Flutey and Hape. I can't believe what I just suggested 2 kiwis in our centers?? I am puttin a sneaky bet on England, long shots but at least now we seemingly have a shot!

  • Comment number 26.

    as a Saracens fan, I am obviously sad to see one ofnour players dropped.....
    But finally Johnson has had the guts to drop someone who was underachieving!!!
    Borthwick isn't as bad as everyone seems to think, his lineout is good but he just doesn't play the attractive rugby played by the likes of Lawes, but I definatly wouldn't have him in my england team.
    He is obviously hurting right now, I just hope he bounces back and has an awesome season for sarries. Doubt it though.

  • Comment number 27.

    'I still can't understand why Johnno is not giving the man of the moment Olly Barkley more of a go'

    So Bakley played most of the game against the Baa Baas before the tour went to Oz... He was atrocious. His decision making was poor, his execution was poor and the whole backline went from looking dangerous to insipid when he came on.

    Then on tour he played both games against the Ozzie Baa Baas. In both games he was abysmal. He offered no threat with the ball in hand, kicked badly, made poor decisions and looked fragile in defence.

    When someone manages to be consistently awful they fully deserve to be dropped. People have whinged about Hape being there instead of Barkely, but over the summer period he played very well against the Baa Baas and pretty well in the 2nd test after a very quiet game in the 1st test. 2 good performances and 1 bad vs 3 bad... Why would want to retain the guy who has shown nothing in three games?

    For me, Flutey, Waldouck, Hape, Barrit and Allen all fully deserve to be ahead of Barkely in the running for the England 12 shirt. He had chances over summer to convert his club form, and failed miserably. This thread is largely about applauding Johnson for ditching another guy who has failed to take his chances (Borthwick), frankly the same thing should be said for ditching Barkely.

  • Comment number 28.

    "People have whinged about Hape being there instead of Barkely, but over the summer period he played very well against the Baa Baas and pretty well in the 2nd test after a very quiet game in the 1st test."

    A quiet game! Are you serious? Hape's first test was the worst performance by an international 12 i have ever seen. He was all at sea and all the Aussie scores came through his channel. He was in the wrong place the whole time and his teammates avoided passing to him.

    As Bath's reserve 13 I'm not sure how much chance he is going to get to actually learn to play ruby union over the next 12 months either.

    Its a very strange decision by Johnson and the midfield of Flood - Hape - Tindall does'nt have enough about it to worry the better teams. Only Tindall should be sure of a place.

  • Comment number 29.

    I agree with the ommission of borthwick! i like him as a guy, hes nice fella.... watever. hes not captain material and although his lineout work is good lets face it he stands five meters back form a ruck and gets driven back another 5 meters. i think johnson should start with Lawes and Palmer and have Shaw to bring on as when hes fresh he will be able to make more of an impact.
    however... i do not for one minute understand the decision to pick Forie over steffon armitage! i mean ( i am biased as im an exiles fan) he looked the in form flanker of the GP last season..... consistantly turning over the ball, making huge hits and bullocking runs and even crosiing the line 7 times!!!
    finally at 8 i would pick Narroway as he has the size of Easter but has the pace of a more modern back row forward and is not moulded like an old school no 8 like Dean Richards.
    P.S Monye over banahan any day!!!!

  • Comment number 30.

    "I do feel sorry for Steve Borthwick, he has helped England through his leadership through a difficult transition period, but unfortunately it was from a position that he was no longer one of the best in that position, it was the same with Martin Corry. "

    Diffence being when England were rubbish Corry would say so, with Borthwick you got aload of positive spin that made him look daft.

  • Comment number 31.

    OK, Steve Borthwick has been dropped for the twin reasons of his necessary recovery from surgery and the emergence of players who are playing better. This is not a disgrace! It's a natural part of the team life-cycle and the selection process. I'm glad that more dynamic players have been prefered but let's not dance on the man's grave. He has done his level best for England, thats for sure, so let's turn down the condemnation of a man who is almost certainly a better rugby player by many degrees than anyone contributing to these blogs, thank him politely for his contribution and move on!

  • Comment number 32.

    for the first time since Johnson took charge feel that he has started to pick on form rather than reputation. Only players I would change are Hape, Easter ( surely Narraway deserves a chance? he did ok in NZ in 2008, hardly played since) and Payne.
    Youngs looks like international player already, as did Lawes in 2nd test, Ashton, Foden, Croft all young enough for 2015.
    Would have liked to see Rees in EPS, Mad Dog is in form of his life but surely will get injured soon?
    There will be disappointments along the way, but at least we seem to be moving in right direction rather than standing still.
    Very sad about Tait thought, would be regular for Fr or Tri Nations teams, they would use his pace in broken play better than England

  • Comment number 33.

    Agree with much of the comment above but would like to raise a linked point about the England game suffering a paucity of 'flair' in the midfield and creative skills in the forwards.

    From memory, Barnes, Morris and Greenwood's GP team of the year only contained 8 British players! The 'flair' and 'creativity' came from overseas imports. Are we therefore really that surprised?

    I know the arguments about domestic players learning from overseas talent etc etc. but I also have to question whether we have got the club v country balance right. A poll on Radio 5 Live last week saw around 85% of football fans preferring their club winning the Champions League to their country winning the World Cup. I seriously hope rugby does not follow suit.

    It is a thankless task for the GP team Heads to have to manage week-in week-out performance whilst supporting a national side but I would like to see us return to a fair, quota system if possible. And by fair, I mean (with the greatest respect) no loopholes for Polynesian nations or EU nationals.

    It can't be coincidence that there are far fewer overseas players in the Super 15 competition and SA, NZ and Aus have consistently stronger national squads. Can it?

  • Comment number 34.

    A lot of people are slating MJ for taking time to make decisions re selection, however i think people need reminding that he hasnt been int he job all that long. he picked a team that he thought would do the job, and like any sensible person wanted to give them time to learn to play together as a team, that was the core foundation element of his selection and to try and give consistency to the England side, something that was there during his time as a player and captain but has been sorely missed since CW departed, he didnt want to make snap decisions based on a single players international form being poor because their 'reputation' showed that they were top players and heprobably felt that one more game and they would come good, eventually it showed that certain players still underperformed and didnt bring to the international setup what they did for their club and he was eventually forced into changes as a result. Yes at times maybe he took a game or two too long to bring in the new stars, but could that be because they had no experience and didnt want to drop them in it, as Tait was several years ago, just for them to disappear into the ether. My guess is he wanted to make certain changes, but was reined in by the fact that he a)wanted to give some big name players the chance to perform as he knows they can and b) wanted to make sure the young future stars were actually ready and well prepared. Does any one need reminding of Steffon Armitages first cap? he was rapidly brought through the elite system and in his first game for england he had an absolute shocker. Yes id like to have seen certain changes sooner, but during the 6N he wanted to win the tournament, who would you pick, an experienced international and proven performer, or someone with promise but who has no experience at all, the latter would give greater rewards if successful but also carries the biggest risk of failure as well. When trying to win a tournament you go for the best bet and least risky route, you only take risks on tours when there is less at stake, to give the guys a chance to sparkle and more importantly gain experience at that level. YOu give your inexperienced guys game time in less important games to give them experience and build them up to the bigger games. The same ethos applies at club levels so why is he criticised for it an international level?

    Im disappointed for Tait, he has searing pace, and he has proved at the highest stage (2007 WC final) that he is a star and a performer. Never really fully understood how or why he was then immediately dropped after that performance and struggled to get a place after tht in the EPS let alone the XV.

    Barkley kicks well but his defence is shaky and his go forward isnt great either, (I'm not entirely convinced his injury is behind him as he appeared to struggle towards the end of the GP a little - still managed to put in some mammoth performances tho, sign of character, not fully recovered but still able to go out and perform, hmmm) but again im surprised he isnt in, but competition is beginning to hot up in that shirt so i guess he just misses out. He can run lines very well and picks out gaps but his offloads and passes in general were a bit wayward downunder, no doubt he will go away and look at those parts of his game and work hard on them and i wouldnt be surprised if come the autumn internationals his club form isnt saying to MJ 'maybe you need to rethink mate, the other guys arent performing that much' and if an injury happens we may see him during the 6N.

    My XV would be


    S Armitage
    D Armitage

    Being a forward tho, my back division is a difficult one, only the likes of Youngs Flood and Foden are guaranteed to be in there, the rest are just to close to call for me, id want strettle to start, but dont see him displacing Cueto or Ashton, Wilko for me should start but with flood at 12 (need i remind you that this was the combination at 10 and 12 during Englands highest try scoring display of 2010 against wales, also they know each other so well, when we beat France last year it was these two that engineered it...) Flutey armitage and care havent performed well enough to warrant starts but deserve to at least to be on the bench, we may see care slip off tho if Ellis comes back to form.

  • Comment number 35.

    Cannot understand Johnson's continual selection of Easter who is slow, does not have particulalrly good offloading skills and generally gets in the way. Ward Smith looks a better option and there are probably several others too, but please get rid of Easter now!

  • Comment number 36.

    Generally most people dislike the selection of Easter at 8 for precisely the reasons you state, the unfortunate problem is there isnt a dynamic long term prospect, Ward-Smith was the type of player we would have liked to have seen wear the 8 shirt prior to 2007, and he was due to go to WC that year until injury forced him out, but he has never fully recovered from that injury to hit the form he once did, i agree he is a better 8 than Easter but he is also getting on and you have to ask yourself is it really worth putting an internationally inexperienced 8 on the pitch who could be too old to adjust effectively to the arena and has no long term future, he deserves to be in the squad, but easters experience unfortunately gives him the nod ahead of Ward-Smith.

    There are calls for a couple of other players to try and make the shirt their own, Narraway is one possible and is definitley young enough as well, Haskell is another possible. Personally i would prefer to see Haskell take it on, whilst he isnt a recognised 8, he definitely has the height bulk pace and dynamism to suit the position and if he wanted it it would be there for the taking even though he is relatively inexperienced.

    If im honest though neither stands head and shoulders above the rest of the contenders and that is the problem. There is no outstanding candidate for that position, there is no Youngs or Foden style candidate of the No8 position (o how i wish there was!), so experience will win and unfortuantely I think Easter will retain his shirt through to the WC next year.

  • Comment number 37.

    The changes look to be at least in the right direction at first glance: when a team doesn't have superstars to draw on, selectors do well to pick players who concentrate on the basics of their positions on one hand and on thew other maintain a constant level of belligerence.

    It can't have been pleasant for Johnson & Co.

    One man's bread will always be another man's poison. Let's hope that everybody who has lost his place will at least have the dignity of being able to say that he lost it to a rising star. While too much chopping and changing (or pointless chopping and changing) can undermine confidence, too little can, perhaps, engender complacency: I very much hope that Johnson has applied the right medicine in the right dosage and at the right spot. One is tempted to say, in light of recent history, that he couldn't miss, but I'm not quite that sanguine.

    Good luck to the new crew.

  • Comment number 38.

    I know this is controversial but i would go with Rees, good pace, good rugby brain and a good leader. The only reason hes not capt now is due to his injury. Croft and Rees as my flankers all the way!!!

  • Comment number 39.

    i fear that this will not resolve Englands preformance! we need better coaching staff with better tactics. if we are to compete with the best we need to be the best! sadley in my option martin johnson is lackiing and his coaching staff are a joke they always have been a step backwards!!

  • Comment number 40.

    A lot of points here. Easter is certainly a very poor man's Dean Richards and along with Danny Care's oh so slow-slow control at the breakdown - the pair were culpable for a lot of that turgid England stuff of the Six Nations 2010. The key to it is balance and dynamism in the back row and in the half backs. Youngs looks to have that edgy confidence, the eye for the gap and the desire so that's a start at No 9. He will give the No 10 - whoever it is - a bit more time and chance to play - hurrah. Dylan Hartley ought to be dropped completely - a little man being over aggressive to make up for his many deficiences and consequently always giving away penalties. As for Matt Banahan - can he catch a pass? Borthwick was a good old soul but hardly inspirational. Dependable yes and corageous to take on the poisoned chalice from which he now seems to have been made to drink.

  • Comment number 41.

    Dom couldnt agree more, he's quality. Also I hope Lawes doesnt turn out to be a one hit wonder, and continues to build from that performance against Australia, because he looked quite cluless in the heineken cup games when i watched him. Hopefully now the likes of Youngs, Croft, Foden, Ashton, Cole and Lawes are in the team, they will gain experience and start leading the team to the world cup. We to often rely on experince and reject youth. Now we have the balance right, half youth and half experienced, things should hopefully get better.

  • Comment number 42.

    Look I'll admit Borthwick hasnt been the best of captains of late, but you cant just axe him after an injury. Bortwick is actually an amazing lock which england need but axing from the squad will not change this. All that i believe should happen is that Steve Borthwick and Simon Shaw should be our locks, Dave Attwood and courtney Lawes should be reserves. What happenec to if you moved to play in a different country u would be axed unless you were amazing like jonny wilkinson, but tom palmer is not amazing and no where near borthwicks standards. Just stop him from being Captain give the duty to someone else and Borthwick will play normally (amazing)


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