Borthwick keen to become hammer of the gloating Scots
Wednesday 18 March 2009
Up north, the Scotland full-back Chris Paterson could be heard admitting that defeat in the 116th Calcutta Cup match might have severe consequences of the P45 variety for his coach, Frank Hadden. Down south, the England captain, Steve Borthwick, spoke in dark tones of the aftermath of last year's fixture, accusing the Scots of some serious gloating following their victory in Edinburgh. It seems there will be no shortage of needle when the two teams meet to wind down their Six Nations campaigns at Twickenham this weekend.
If Paterson's comments were heartfelt, they were also a statement of what Basil Fawlty once called the "bleedin' obvious". The Scottish Rugby Union will not be satisfied with anything less than two victories in this tournament and, as things stand, Hadden has only one – against the whipping boys from Italy – to his name. As England are the only ones still there to be beaten, the equation is simple, stark and brutal.
By contrast, Borthwick's words were entirely unexpected. The Saracens lock is hardly one of life's natural controversialists – generally speaking, he chooses his words with the kind of care associated with Whitehall mandarins and career diplomats – but yesterday he spoke with considerable feeling, both about his own form in the face of a torrent of criticism from those pundits who do not rate him, either as a player or a captain, and about the game at Murrayfield a year ago that to all intents and purposes cost Brian Ashton his job as head coach.
"The England-Scotland rivalry is an old one, and last year they took great delight in rubbing in the fact that they'd beaten us," he said. "Certain things happened afterwards that I won't forget." And then he added: "I'd like to think that against France last weekend, we handled our win in a gracious manner." Ouch, ouch and triple ouch. Borthwick should have been happier than he was, given the quality of his contribution against the French. He certainly impressed the coaching staff, one of whom – the forwards strategist John Wells – went out of his way to praise the captain. "We've all taken some shit over the last few weeks, Steve more than most," said the former Leicester flanker, politely.
"As coaches, we're delighted that the team won, and delighted that Steve banged in a great performance himself. He's a selfless player who commands enormous respect in the squad. I hope he can now be left to get on with captaining the side."
Privately, Borthwick would probably admit that the level of personal criticism, some of it bordering on open abuse, has upset him. Publicly, he is standing firm. "No coach has come to me and told me I'm not fulfilling my role," he said. "We can all play better, be more effective. But there are some jobs in rugby that aren't pretty and don't get noticed: just making tackles, hitting rucks and winning set-piece ball. If that's my role, that's what I'll do. The pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. I've been given wholehearted support by Martin Johnson and my team-mates. As long as I have that, I'll stay focused on doing whatever I can to make this side successful."
Johnson, the manager, was scheduled to name his side today, following medical checks on the outside-half Toby Flood and the open-side flanker Joe Worsley. Flood damaged the A/C joint in his right shoulder after slipping near the French line during the first half of Sunday's game, while Worsley, the most prolific tackler in the team since his recall against Wales last month, suffered a nasty gash to his thumb. Both men are doubtful, with Worsley particularly up against it.
Should the latter fail to make the cut, so to speak, another Wasps flanker, Tom Rees, could find himself back in the side despite an obvious lack of match practice following a bout of knee trouble. "We're pretty comfortable with it," Wells said. "Tom is a quality international player. We wouldn't push him if we didn't feel he could turn up and perform at this level."
Wells and Co are much less confident of Danny Cipriani's ability to do likewise, hence their decision to ignore Wasps' celebrity stand-off for the fifth consecutive game. Instead of adding him to the No 10 options alongside Flood and Andy Goode, they plumped for Olly Barkley, the Gloucester goal- kicker, instead – a move that means Cipriani, who started the season as a first-choice player, is down to fifth in the pecking order. "Danny is a talented player and we're keeping an eye on him," said the attack coach Brian Smith, "but he'll have to force his way back in through weight of performance." As things stand, his performances are not nearly heavy enough.
*Ben Cohen, a member of the England team that won the World Cup in 2003, is today expected to agree a two-year deal with Sale, paving the way for a return to Premiership rugby after a stint in France with Brive.
Oh, Danny boy: Cipriani takes a hit
Danny Cipriani was England's first-choice No 10 in the autumn, but now finds himself at No 5 in the pecking order. Chris Hewett assesses the rival fly-halves:
1. Toby Flood (Leicester) Current first choice for Martin Johnson, particularly after a promising display against the French.
2. Andy Goode (Brive): A mixed bag of performances since being recalled to the squad, but mental resilience is well regarded.
3. Olly Barkley (Gloucester): Unfortunate to be omitted from the elite group, his recent club displays have put him back on the radar.
4. Shane Geraghty (London Irish): Seen as a better bench candidate than Cipriani, he would probably be in the XXII but for injury.
5. Danny Cipriani (Wasps): Out of form, and out of favour. His over-hasty return from a serious ankle injury seems more ill-advised by the day.
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