Sitting next to a new coach facing the media at Twickenham on Monday, Bill Sweeney declared that this was “the launch of a new era for rugby in England”.
The appointment of Steve Borthwick, suggests Sweeney, chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, is more than just a personnel change.
With a new head coach, there is a new direction and approach as well.
After years of Eddie Jones framing everything in the context of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the tournament in France has barely been mentioned all day.
Instead, there were other messages. pride. performance. the win. Reconnecting the exhausted rugby fans to their national team. Focus on the next game; nothing else matters. Turn boos into roars.
“I am honored to be England coach,” Borthwick told the weekly rugby union podcast, He ditches his usual tracksuit for a rare suit outing.
“I was the little kid who fell in love with the game watching the England rugby team play on TV.
“This England team has incredible strength, the ability to inspire kids and the ability to move people.”
Borthwick won’t look far ahead; He refused to let the narrative drift even with England’s second game against Italy in mid-February, let alone the World Cup in September.
“I want to multiply every minute we have. The World Cup is on the horizon, not far at all.”
“But I want to be really clear. That first game of the Six Nations, I want us to work towards that game.
“Our responsibility is to make sure we play, fight and work, so our fans can see how much our players care, how much they are hurt by what happened earlier.”
The Russian Football Union, which has so far been supportive of Jones and his “world cup or bankruptcy” policy, appears to have done something out of 180 itself.
“The World Cup is not entirely the focus,” Sweeney stressed.
“We have fans who want to see us in competition in the Six Nations as well. There is a need for balance.”
While Sweeney admitted this was never the master plan, instead hoping Jones would hand over the reins to his successor along with the Webb Ellis Cup, he was adamant that the decision to change coach was made for the right reasons, at the right time, after five wins. In 13 games in 2022 and a poor fall campaign.
“The results were not what we expected,” he added.
“Eddie is the heroic animal. But you make decisions based on your information. You sit down and analyze it and make a decision as to whether it was the right thing to do.
“We think that was the right thing to do.”
But having previously backed Jones’ vision of building a World Cup-winning outfit over a number of years, the RFU’s timing means Borthwick will have little time to make his mark.
“Time is what time is, it is neither short nor long,” Borthwick said.
“We believe we have plenty of time now to continue our goal of the World Cup,” Sweeney added.
The past two weeks have been tough for Borthwick, with the RFU and Leicester negotiating his contractual exit and right-handed exit Kevin Seinfeld.
And frankly, Borthwick was uncomfortable with constantly having to dodge questions about his future while on duty at Leicester.
“It was hard to leave this group of players,” he added.
“Over the past two and a half years, they have come together and grown together.
“I asked them to work hard, and they worked really hard to try and achieve something special.”
Borthwick will have to hit the ground running, finish his training squad and Six Nations squad by mid-January, and he warned any England fan should expect overnight reforms.
“We have a lot of work to do. Many people have said that we are behind other countries, and so are we,” he said.
“In 47 days when we play Scotland we won’t be perfect, but what everyone needs to see is how much these players are fighting for this team, inspiring this crowd so they are very proud of this team.”
Never one to succumb in the limelight or make wild public statements, Berthwick nonetheless struck an authentic tone throughout his first day on the job, while showing his lighter side as he recalled how one of his sons made him condition pick Tommy Revell from Wales. .
But after seven years of highs and lows, ups and downs, fun and games, and smoke and mirrors under Eddie Jones, it’s clear the Borthwick era will be very different—”calm and focused,” according to Sweeney.
“Steve is his own man, he’s very authentic and full of integrity,” he said.
“We just want to encourage him to be himself and I’m sure that will be fine.
“We are very confident that Steve knows how to get his message across.”
Those who have worked with Borthwick and Sinfield, have no doubt that the pair have the attributes to revive the English side.
Leicester Rugby’s Chris Ashton told Union Weekly: “Steve will put together a plan for you, with the right players involved, which is a case of ‘go do this, we’ll win the game'”.
As a player you think: ‘Okay, I can go through with that.
“Throw in there how Seinfeld leads the defense and that’s a recipe for success.”
As Borthwick repeated throughout his first day, the hard work now begins.
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