Steve Borthwick's decision to drop Owen Farrell is not the first time the England boss has made a big call
‘Huge’, ‘significant’ and even ‘uncharacteristic’ are some of the words used to describe the Steve Borthwick bold call to drop Owen Farrell from the England starting line-up to face France.
Not since the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup has a full-strength England side not had the Saracens fly-half-turned-centre among the XV.
During his press conference ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations showdown, Borthwick pointed to ‘last year’s finals’ to prove he’s no stranger to bold decisions.
In only his second full season in sole charge of Leicester Tigers, he guided them to a first Premiership title in nine years.
While there was pragmatism in his style of play, the journey included numerous big calls that raised eyebrows among the Tigers faithful.
Chief among them was the decision to select veteran scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth for the Premiership final against Saracens.
Following the Six Nations period when Ben Youngs was away on international duty, Wigglesworth started in only two of his eight appearances leading up to the play-offs as Youngs and Jack van Poortvliet were preferred for starting roles.
But for the final, a Borthwick bold call meant turning to the supremely experienced ex-Saracen to mastermind the territorial battle against his former club, reducing Youngs to a place on the bench while van Poortvliet – who came off the bench in the semi-final against the Saints – was left out of the squad altogether. It was a decision that was questioned at the time but ultimately helped deliver Tigers a league title, just two years after finishing second bottom for a second successive season.
Also in the final, Borthwick selected Guy Porter at inside centre. While Dan Kelly’s injury in the semi-final was a key factor in this decision, it was still somewhat of a gamble given Porter had only worn the 12 shirt seven times previously across two-and-a-half seasons at Tigers.
Borthwick also resisted the temptation to place Nemani Nadolo in the matchday squad for the final, knowing there would be ample amounts of kick chasing to be done on a hot afternoon in the capital city, he instead switched Harry Potter from the right wing to the left and Chris Ashton was brought into the starting line-up.
While not a selection call, the signing of Ashton itself was a bold move by Borthwick and his team. The former England international’s career was seemingly ending on a sour note with spells at Harlequins, Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors ending abruptly.
He joined a Tigers team that was flying and top of the league. Why would they take such a risk? Ashton rewarded their faith by scoring seven tries in 12 games, in which time he broke the Premiership’s all-time try-scoring record on his way to becoming a champion once more.
Let us not forget arguably the boldest of all the calls Borthwick made while at Mattioli Woods Welford Road. When Tom Youngs decided to step down as Tigers captain for personal reasons ahead of later announcing his retirement, there was a long list of contenders to succeed him as skipper.
George Ford essentially operated as a captain even without an armband while Dan Cole and Ben Youngs are already club legends. Julian Montoya was confirmed as Argentina’s captain prior to the 2021-22 season too.
Related: Ellis Genge England captain
Instead, Borthwick somewhat controversially turned to the fiery personality of Ellis Genge to lead his team. It proved an inspired decision, as the loosehead prop led from the front in the season of his life to deliver silverware.
Eight months later, he’s leading his country at the same stadium, under the same head coach and against another super power opponent.
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