Eddie Jones: Borthwick is at home in brutal new world
Saturday 27 September 2008
Sometimes, I wonder if rugby will ever reach the limit of its physicality. It's a desperately hard sport these days, and we're fast getting to the stage where teams will struggle to train meaningfully more than twice a week – post-match recovery is beginning to take upwards of 48 hours. A lot of these blokes are now covering eight kilometres in a game, and when you lump that together with the ever-increasing punishment they take in contact, well, it makes the eyes water. Maybe pro-fessional union will find itself returning to the tried-and-trusted amateur routine of a session on Tuesday and another on Thursday, for the simple reason that no one will be able to handle more.
Because of the growing intensity at Premiership level, it's vital a coach manages the week well. Warren Gatland was ahead of the pack when he worked with Wasps, understanding that by giving his players plenty of time away from the training field, they would be fresher for longer. As a result, they started winning trophies. Those habits have been stitched into the fabric of the club and we at Saracens expect to benchmark ourselves against them this season, despite their poor start.
But there is more to this. Successful sides depend on leadership. People with genuine life experience are becoming rarer – an ever-growing percentage of players lead what I call the secluded life, having gone from schools rugby into academy rugby, and from there into first-team squads. This sport has always produced exceptional leaders: no team has ever won a World Cup without one. But finding them now is a problem.
It's the principal reason why I signed Steve Borthwick from Bath. Everyone knows he's a high-class operator in the line-out, but more importantly, he brings a seriousness and a maturity to his work – a level of commitment above the usual – that will be central to the club-building process we've started at Saracens.
There is no point asking everyone to be a leader; a hard core of five or six is about right. And of those five or six, you need one to be the controlling influence. Steve has what it takes in that regard, which is why England appointed him captain for their tour of New Zealand in June. Strong leadership will be crucial for England as they move forward. If I were them, I'd stick with Borthwick.
I've been pretty fortunate with the senior players I've had. John Eales struck everyone as the nicest bloke in the world, but when he was captain of the Wallabies he could be pretty tough. I remember when a member of the staff came into the team room wearing a collarless shirt, which was against the very strict dress code. John took one look at him and said: "Out! And don't come back until you find yourself a proper shirt."
More recently, I worked with the Springboks and was struck by John Smit's contribution. The South Africans still have an intense provincial rivalry within the Test squad: the Blue Bulls from Pretoria do things differently to the Sharks from Durban; the guys from Cape Town have a culture of their own. Smit was outstanding in stitching the different threads into something whole. He also had the guts to tell the coaches their fortunes. If he thought that day's training had been dreadful, he was prepared to say so. There aren't too many players with the confidence to do that in the up-front way he did it.
I'm quite happy to have that kind of relationship with my senior players at Saracens. I have Borthwick and Andy Farrell, Glen Jackson and Neil de Kock, Chris Jack and Michael Owen, who knows what it is to captain Wales to a Grand Slam. And Wickus van Heerden, who has led most teams he's played in, is on his way from South Africa. If one of my training sessions is rubbish, I'm sure I'll be told – although I'd prefer it if they didn't all tell me together.
Eddie Jones is the Saracens director of rugby and you can see his side in action against Northampton today at Vicarage Road, kick-off 2.45pm.What's Caught My Eye High kicking
*Thanks to the experimental law variations, together with the tougher stance from referees on players going off their feet at the breakdown, instead of never seeing the ball, we now see it all the time – a mile high in the air! Punters hate aimless ping-pong kicking just as much they hated the pick-and-go obsession. Is this really a way forward?
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