Steve Borthwick has swapped the hothouse of Test rugby for the pressure cooker of the Premiership. SEAN HOLLEY says Leicester have chosen their new head coach wisely
Borthwick will get Tigers roaring again
The pandemic has hit Leicester Tigers in the pocket and on the pitch. Along with heavy losses and staff redundancies, star names Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May and Telusa Veainu are among those to have left the Gallagher Premiership strugglers this year.
There is some bright news, however, because this month saw Steve Borthwick commence his tenure as head coach in a revamped coaching structure. On being appointed, he said: “What has been evident to me is that the pain caused by Tigers being where the club is on the table has been felt by everyone associated with this club – players, coaches, staff and supporters.
“This is something we need to change. We will do so by pulling everyone who is a part of this club even tighter to the team and taking on opponents together.”
Sean Holley, the former Ospreys and Bristol coach now working as a TV analyst, worked with Borthwick in 2015. He believes better times lie ahead for the Tigers, as he explains here…
For many, the speedy rise to a head coach position for former England forward Steve Borthwick has not come as a surprise, writes Sean Holley. The uncompromising lock captained Bath and later led Saracens to their first Premiership title in 2010-11. He made 265 Premiership appearances, a record at the time, and played for England at every level.
His undoubted leadership qualities were targeted by the then Japan coach Eddie Jones and Borthwick was catapulted into international coaching. Now, after nearly five years with the England set-up, two Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam, a Wallaby whitewash on Aussie soil, a successful Lions campaign and a World Cup final, Borthwick has become head coach at underachieving Premiership giants Leicester Tigers.
There are few, if any, within the coaching fraternity that have anything other than good words to say about Borthwick’s coaching. I was lucky enough to work with him, albeit for a short period, at Bristol between Borthwick’s roles at Japan and England. His attention to detail is his USP. The often quiet and subtle way in which he empowers and galvanises his troops is something he has taken into his coaching ethos from his playing and captaincy days.
Borthwick doesn’t have a gregarious personality – he doesn’t need to – as his work ethic, understanding of the game and the requirements to succeed are inspiration enough.
As a forwards coach the old adage of ‘been there and done it’ does carry weight with a lot of players. That’s unquestioned with Steve Borthwick. As a player, his forensic understanding of the set-piece, and the almost nerd-like interest in the lineout in particular, was always going to lend itself to a coaching career.
But imparting that knowledge and understanding to others as a coach is something quite different. He has a unique way of presenting information to a group of forwards that is not only informative but also entertaining and motivational. He is not afraid to use good examples of technique and tactics from other teams.
Whilst he is very firm on the basics of the game, Borthwick is innovative and willing to listen but also challenge. The latter would have been mandatory under Jones, renowned as the hardest-working coach in world rugby and the most demanding on his staff. In Borthwick, Jones found the perfect understudy with a like-minded attitude, ethic and principles.
Publicly Jones has lauded the detail with which Borthwick goes about his work. On Borthwick’s departure from the England set-up, the Australian was quoted as saying: “He created a great lineout for England and really developed the young guys.
“If you look at someone like Maro Itoje, he’s become a world-class lock under Steve. He has also turned our maul into a weapon for us and he’s done brilliant work co-ordinating the England programme. We will miss him greatly.”
And yet prior to his departure, Jones moved Borthwick from England forwards coach to skills coach, allowing room for Matt Proudfoot. Many saw this as a demotion for Borthwick but Jones was simply making the most of Borthwick’s eye for detail – to further improve his players and on a more microscopic and analytical level.
Leicester have been English champions ten times since leagues began in 1987-88 and been runners-up seven times. They have twice lifted the European Cup but had won only four of their 13 top-flight games before the 2019-20 Premiership season was suspended.
In their radical and much needed shake-up, Geordan Murphy moves to director of rugby. Rob Taylor joins as attack coach from Sydney University and Mike Ford switches to defence coach. Brett Deacon will assist Ford and also Borthwick with the forwards, while Boris Stankovich continues as scrum coach. There’s a new head of physical performance in Aled Walters, a Welshman who helped steered the Springboks to World Cup glory.
You sense the Tigers are ready to roar again. This will be a completely different challenge for Borthwick but I’m sure one he will embrace, still with tracksuit on, and bring the best out of the fallen giants.
To move from Test coaching to club rugby is a risk for Borthwick. But he is clearly someone who loves a challenge and there is no better time to go to Leicester and make a difference.
The Tigers are a proud club that is hurting but will quickly have to accept that some of their old ways just don’t work anymore. They will need to adopt the relentless scrutiny and harsh reality that is the attention to detail Steve Borthwick will bring. It may take some time but expect Leicester to be up there again.
Sean Holley has analysed Steve Borthwick’s technical coaching in our August 2020 edition. If you can’t get to the shops to buy a copy, you can now order single issues online and get the magazine delivered direct to your door – click here and select Rugby World’s Aug-20 issue.
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