Borthwick has chosen an unchanged starting XV for the first time as England head coach
England have not changed their starting XV for the first time under head coach Steve Borthwick for their Six Nations match against Wales at Twickenham. The continuity has seen new players like wing Tommy Freeman and flanker Ethan Roots retain their places in a show of faith from Borthwick to his new-look England after they scraped past Italy in round one.
When Borthwick first took over from Eddie Jones in 2022 the team was not only in transition in terms of coaching staff but also in relation to the Rugby World Cup cycle. Borthwick didn’t change too much from what we had seen from Jones’ era, not rocking the boat so close to a RWC.
New-look England stick with same 23 for round two against Wales
As a result, this Six Nations team feels like the first one with Borthwick’s stamp on it. New players are being blooded and a new defensive system is being put in place thanks to new defence coach Felix Jones. Borthwick is clearly impressed with the double World Cup winner, saying: “His work ethic has astounded me. He has the players transfixed when he speaks and that is superb.”
Of course the changes in the team are not all down to Borthwick’s vision. Captain Owen Farrell is not involved as he is taking time away from international rugby, while players like Courtney Lawes retired after the RWC and several stars have paused their England careers to play their club rugby abroad.
While Borthwick may not have the pick of all the players he may like, he has ushered in some of the brightest young talents in the Premiership. Fin Smith, Fraser Dingwall, Roots, Chandler Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso all made their debuts against Italy in round one, players who will carry England into the future. The investment in them now will only serve the national team well for years to come.
Some inexperienced players and adapting to a new defensive system may lead to some defeats in this Six Nations but I think the long-term pay-off is worth it. Consistency is something the team have been lacking with this starting XV against Wales the first time England have named an unchanged XV since the 2019 RWC final.
There will always be pressure on England to get results, from the Rugby Football Union, fans and media, but laying new foundations for a long-term path that could render huge success is one Borthwick is walking down and to me it seems like the best option to shake up England.
The team haven’t been in top form since the 2019 RWC semi-final with performances featuring a stunted attack and, at times, reckless defence. Just over four years later England finally look to be finding the answers to the questions levelled towards them and it starts with a new and consistent starting XV.