Monye leaps to Borthwick's defence

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The Independent Online

Ugo Monye believes Steve Borthwick has been made the scapegoat for England's dismal autumn and insists the captain has the full support of his team.

Borthwick's leadership was criticised as England slumped to record defeats by South Africa and New Zealand, after being thumped by Australia.

Only victory over a scratch Pacific Islanders side prevented a November whitewash at Twickenham as Martin Johnson endured a demoralising start to his reign as England manager.

Fingers were quickly pointed at Borthwick as the series unravelled but the Saracens lock has been reappointed skipper for the RBS 6 Nations.

Borthwick is viewed in some quarters as captain by default but Monye, who won all four of his caps during the autumn, insists he is respected throughout the squad.

"Steve is a great captain. Invariably he's at the forefront of everything we do," said the Harlequins winger, speaking on behalf of Greene King IPA, the Official Beer of England and Harlequins.

"He takes a huge amount of responsibility on the pitch and works very closely with the coaches.

"People always look for a scapegoat when things go wrong and being captain he was always going to face more criticism than anyone else.

"It was the first time I'd worked under Steve Borthwick and I thought he was excellent, I learnt a lot from him.

"The players' support is never in question. Everyone has a huge amount of respect for the guy, I kid you not."

The depressing autumn has seen England installed as third favourites to win the Six Nations with only perennial wooden spoon rivals Scotland and Italy below them in the eyes of bookmakers.

Even with the championship seemingly wide open - Wales are favourites - England have few backers for a title they last won six years ago.

But Monye believes they can produce "something special" to dispel the gloom that has enveloped Twickenham since the 2003 World Cup triumph.

"Maybe in the public's eye being third favourites is a fair reflection of where we are," said the 25-year-old.

"We had a tough autumn series but within the squad there's an incredible amount of belief.

"There is so much steel and determination to move on and produce the sort of performances we know we can.

"I believe we have the right players and coaching staff to achieve that.

"We took a lot of criticism as there's a huge amount of pride and expectation surrounding English rugby.

"But the greatest expectation comes from the players ourselves and we've all had our pride dented.

"On a personal level I'm looking forward to it - this will be my first Six Nations and I believe we can do something special.

"We let ourselves down in the autumn. We had more possession and territory against the southern hemisphere sides than we ever have done in the past."

Johnson is reported to have blamed fitness levels as a major factor behind the November defeats but Monye believes the southern hemisphere's ruthless streak was more influential.

"Martin may have a point but I didn't think the difference in fitness levels was too apparent," he said.

"The main difference was they took their chances - they didn't create many but every time they got into that danger zone they scored."