Borthwick is surprise starter after his knee problems ease

Saracens have been springing surprises all season, but yesterday's announcement that Steve Borthwick would start this weekend's Premiership final against Leicester was even more startling than usual. The England captain has not played since the drawn Calcutta Cup match with Scotland at Murrayfield in March and was not included in the 44-man party for the forthcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand on the basis that he required a full summer's rest and recuperation.

However, Borthwick's knee problems have eased significantly over the last fortnight, to the extent that he is fit to lock the Saracens scrum on Saturday. "He's a world-class player, a special player, and while this is difficult for Tom Ryder and Mouritz Botha, who have done so well for us recently, it's great to have him back in the mix," Venter said.

"Two weeks ago, he was not fit to play. Now the progress is such that he is fit to play and that is why it happened as it happened. We're very happy to have him back and it will be good for the team.

"[Borthwick's return] was also for Steve's sake – it's not every day you get to a final. It would be crazy not to use him. We wanted him back a little bit earlier. He had planned to come back for the Leicester game earlier this month and then for Northampton.

"He spoke to me last week and I said if he could train last week at full pace then we would consider him for selection. When I sat down with the coaches the over-riding opinion was that it would be wrong not to use a world-class player for the final. I am very, very happy to have Steve back and it will be good for the team."

Borthwick will not lead the side. The South African No 8 Ernst Joubert, one of the outstanding players in this season's Premiership, retains the responsibility because it is not yet clear how long the Englishman will stay on the field.

On Borthwick's exclusion from England's squad for the summer tour, Venter said: "Martin Johnson had to make a decision two weeks ago and at that stage Steve was not fit to play. Now the progress has been such that he is fit to play." Borthwick lost the Test captaincy to Lewis Moody for the final Six Nations match against France and the Leicester openside looks set to continue in the role this summer.

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