Martin Johnson may believe everyone outside the immediate confines of the England squad to be guilty of peddling misinformation on the subject of Steve Borthwick and the national captaincy, but the manager remains reluctant to give the Saracens second-row forward an unequivocal vote of confidence by handing him the reins for the whole of the Six Nations Championship. "Steve is our captain until... he's our captain," Johnson said yesterday, not terribly helpfully.
Borthwick, sitting alongside his predecessor in the engine-room of the pack at the official tournament launch, wore the expression of a man who had heard it all before, which was precisely the case. "I've been getting on with what I do, which is trying to play well for Saracens and putting myself in the best possible shape for when Martin picks the team," he commented when asked whether he had been remotely entertained by premature reports of the death of his captaincy. "I don't do what I do by reading what people write."
Johnson, who announced on Monday that there would be no change at the helm for the meeting with Wales in nine days, was at pains to point out that a team needs a leadership group every bit as much as it needs a leader, if not more. "One guy doing everything? It doesn't work like that," the manager insisted. "The captain has an important role and Steve sets a great example. He puts the team first and he has the players behind him. But any side reliant on one player is a side with a weakness. It's generated a lot of column inches, this subject, but I don't know how accurate some of the comment has been."
With England finding themselves in a must-win situation – defeat by Wales in one of only two home fixtures will leave them playing catch-up in the championship and intensify the heat on the back-room staff – Johnson intends to throw everything at the opening match.
"Every time a tournament starts, people talk about what's going to happen at the end," he said with a bemused shake of the head. "We'll concentrate on the first game. Wales are an established side, consistent in what they've tried to do in recent seasons. From our point of view, this is the strongest squad I've had since I arrived.
"This is winter rugby we'll be playing and the stuff we've just seen in the Heineken Cup gives us some idea of what this tournament will be like: a huge amount of pressure with games decided by a score here and there. The thing is to be on the right side of tight matches and we think we've made progress over the last few months, especially defensively. In 2009, we conceded one try a game on average. We haven't been creating enough attacking pressure: too often, we've allowed teams out of their own last third of the field too lightly. But we've been kicking our goals and that's important."Reuse content