Heineken Cup Final 2014: Steve Borthwick's injury struggle 'proves that life is unfair'

If the Saracens captain misses European clash with Toulon, he will also be unavailable for the Premiership final against Northampton

rugby union correspondent

Officially, the former England captain Steve Borthwick has a 50-50 chance of leading Saracens in Saturday's Heineken Cup final against Toulon at the Millennium Stadium – his final shot at European glory on the day the most popular club tournament in world rugby takes its final breath. Unofficially, he needs the kind of miracle that gave Lazarus a lasting place in history. If that miracle is not forthcoming, the most deserving of players will be denied his just reward.

"This just proves that life is unfair," said Mark McCall, the Londoners' director of rugby, confirming that if the 34-year-old lock misses the game in Cardiff because of a "significant injury to his pectoral muscle", he will also be off-limits for the Premiership final against Northampton at Twickenham in 10 days' time. Unfair? That is not the half of it. Borthwick's reputation as the hardest-working, most dedicated of professionals has long been set in stone and it will be a cruel turn of events if he is forced to watch the last two games of a fine playing career, rather than participate in them.

It is a little under six months since the Cumbrian announced plans to retire at the end of the campaign: a coaching career awaits him, initially in Japan, where he is expected to be reunited with Eddie Jones, the Australian strategist who persuaded him to leave Bath for Saracens in 2008. Since going public with his intentions, Borthwick has strained every sinew in dragging his side to within touching distance of a much sought-after "double". Such has been his consistency, this current Sarries squad barely know what it is to play a big game without him.

"Steve has made some progress and he has a chance," McCall stated in an effort to strike an optimistic note, "but he's not training at the moment. There are things he'll have to do before we can declare him fit to play and we'll make that decision later in the week. We're all desperately hoping he plays: we've said on many occasions just how wonderful he's been as a leader of this club and no player deserves to play in these games more than Steve. The really impressive thing is that there is no hint of self-pity about him. He may be injured, but he's thrown himself into our preparations and been massively involved in everything we've done over the last couple of days."

Back in 2000, when Northampton met Munster in the fifth Heineken Cup final at Twickenham, their captain Pat Lam took the field carrying a serious shoulder problem and threw himself into the fray with a scary disregard for his own safety. Indeed, he sought contact from the kick-off, working on the logic that if he survived the first tackle, he might just survive the game… which he pretty much did.

Times have changed. Saracens have no intention of playing Borthwick unless he is 100 per cent fit, partly because self-sacrifice on the Lam scale is no longer regarded as remotely sane and partly because they have two alternative international locks available to them: Alistair Hargreaves, who won four caps for his native South Africa before heading for the northern hemisphere club scene, and Mouritz Botha, who was born and raised in Springbok country but played his international rugby for England.

Botha, in prime form, gave Saracens a nasty turn when he suffered a back spasm shortly before last weekend's Premiership semi-final meeting with Harlequins – the game in which Borthwick crocked himself – and withdrew from the contest. "Mouritz should be fine for Saturday," McCall reported, adding: "Actually, the fact that he couldn't play against Quins meant Alistair had 80 minutes of rugby. Which he needed, because he'll be heavily involved against Toulon."

McCall had rather less to say on the subject of Chris Ashton's latest brush with authority. The Test wing has been hauled over the coals by the Rugby Football Union disciplinary brigade, who took a dim view of his attempt to distract the Harlequins outside-half Nick Evans during his goal-kicking routine during the Premiership semi-final. According to the Saracens boss, the matter has been laid to rest. "There's a lot of things I could say," he remarked, darkly, "but it's been dealt with and we move on."

Meanwhile, the Quins line-out specialist Nick Kennedy, who pocketed a Heineken Cup winner's medal with Toulon this time last year, has taken the surprising decision to retire at 32 – no great age for a second-row forward.

The England international will rejoin London Irish, for whom he made more than 200 senior appearances before moving to France, as academy director. He will be joined in a revamped set-up by his old club-mate Paul Hodgson, who won a handful of red-rose caps at scrum-half.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam