Borthwick eager to restore rugby's reputation

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The Independent Online

England captain Steve Borthwick last night reminded his squad of their responsibility to be good role models as rugby attempts to deal with the fallout from two major scandals.

Bath have lost five players this year to drug-related offences, including England prop Matt Stevens and former Australia lock Justin Harrison who both took cocaine.



Harlequins winger Tom Williams was found to have faked a blood injury in last season's Heineken Cup quarter-final and received a 12-month suspension.



Borthwick said: "We are role models for many people. We are the England team and we need to ensure we act responsibly.



"We all work very hard as rugby players to get selection and to earn a living but we are also very privileged. That doesn't escape me because with that comes responsibility.



"I have always felt that responsibility and that is the way I have chosen to conduct myself."



England opened the Twickenham doors yesterday to 5,000 fans who watched the squad train on the field and then stayed back to collect autographs and photos.



Jonny Wilkinson, the star attraction, stayed until the very last minute before dashing off to catch his flight back to Toulon for his French Top 14 debut tomorrow night.



"There were lots of people out there and we all stayed there to sign autographs for as long as need be. We have a responsibility and we are acutely aware of it," Borthwick added.



The England captain insisted he had never witnessed the use of fake blood in a match. National team manager Martin Johnson echoed that sentiment, although he admitted there had been rumblings on the circuit.



"I have never had any experience of fake blood. You hear stories but I have never experienced it. I have no cause to doubt either the team I have played in or the opposition," he said.



Williams will appeal his 12-month suspension at a hearing in Glasgow on Monday, while Harlequins face the prospect of being thrown out of European rugby.



Disciplinary boss Roger O'Connor lodged an appeal against Harlequins' £215,000 fine with half the amount suspended, suggesting he felt the punishment was too lenient.



Quins chief executive Mark Evans yesterday pleaded for the appeal panel not to throw them out of the Heineken Cup and insisted the lesson had well and truly hit home.



In an open letter of apology to supporters, Evans wrote: "Our focus as a club now is to reduce Tom Williams' ban which we felt was disproportionate and to ensure that we do not get expelled from European rugby.



"The club has accepted the findings of the initial ERC inquiry and has accepted the sanction.



"The scale of the sanction is unprecedented in the game and the severity of the fine is a clear message, not only to our club but to the game as a whole, that this type of behaviour is not acceptable and will be severely punished.



"We entirely agree with that message and sincerely hope that no further sanctions are imposed upon a club whose presence in the Heineken Cup is based on playing merit and playing merit alone."



Dean Richards tendered his resignation as director of rugby during the club's internal investigation into the incident and it was accepted by the board on Saturday.



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