Martin Johnson's choice of a second-row forward to shoulder the burden of the England captaincy may have had a whiff of cliché about it, given that the World Cup-winning captain spent his entire rugby career looking at life from the darkest recesses of the scrum, but the new man – Steve Borthwick of Bath – is studiously avoiding the hackneyed old "one game at a time" line. Borthwick intends to take it two games at a time; not a radical departure, admittedly, but different enough to be going on with.
"We're certainly entering a new era of English rugby, what with the recent change in the management structure," he said yesterday, referring to the cruel rejection of the head coach Brian Ashton, with whom he once worked at the Recreation Ground, in favour of the appointment of Johnson to a tailor-made role carrying full hiring and firing powers over the red rose back-room staff. "However, I don't see myself as being put in charge of leading the team into this new era. I've been appointed for the two Tests in New Zealand next month, and I won't be looking any further ahead than that.
"Did I expect to be offered the job? No. I don't think it's for a player to expect such an honour and privilege. I was aware that my name was being mentioned by the pundits, but there are a lot of quality leaders in the England set-up and the subject really didn't cross my mind until Martin phoned and asked me to take it on. I wouldn't say I was ambitious for the job, either. It's not in my make-up to aspire to something like the captaincy. I aspire to perform at a level that will win me the respect of my peers. That is what means most to me."
Borthwick expects to be sorely tested by the All Blacks in Auckland and Christchurch, but is reassured by the level of experience in the squad named by Johnson earlier this week. "In international rugby, you tend to be operating alongside players who are judged to be the best in their positions," he said. "Often, such players have a good deal of leadership ability. When I led England against Italy during the Six Nations Championship [his one previous outing as captain at Test level] I was a late stand-in for Phil Vickery, who had done all the hard work through the week and made it fairly straightforward for me. Phil won't be in New Zealand, sadly, but I think there'll be plenty of people there to share the load."
All things considered, the load is at its heaviest right now. Bath visit Wasps in a play-off semi-final on Sunday; seven days later, they face Worcester in the final of the European Challenge Cup at Kingsholm; and if things go well this weekend, there will be a Guinness Premiership final at Twickenham against either Gloucester or Leicester. Add to this the fact that Borthwick will leave the club at the end of the season – he has agreed terms with Saracens – and it is hardly surprising that he should be just a little on edge.
"The finality of my decision to leave is definitely starting to affect me," he admitted. "It's going to be an emotional period. I've already played my last game at the Rec" – the swamping of Saracens 13 days ago was a fitting farewell, not that Borthwick realised the significance of the occasion at the time – "and the important thing now is to get the most from what I hope will be three end-of-season matches. There was some fuss surrounding my move to Saracens, but anyone who knows me understands how much I love the Bath club. I'll never lose my feeling for it. My entire focus is on helping this group of players achieve the success they deserve."
Two of Borthwick's illustrious predecessors in the Bath engine room, Nigel Redman and Martin Haag, have been given new roles by the Rugby Football Union. Redman, the guiding spirit of this year's Grand Slam-winning England Under-20 squad, will fill the new post of elite coach development manager, while Haag joins the national academy coaching team.
Redman, who will report to the department head Kevin Bowring, has enjoyed a productive spell in age-group coaching and will head up England's bid for the junior world title in Wales next month before taking up his fresh position in July.
"Nigel has done an outstanding job and will be an invaluable asset to me," Bowring said.
Haag, one of the forces behind Bristol's march to a top-four Premiership finish last season before losing his job in a ruthless shake-up during the summer, has been working with his old club this term.Reuse content