Borthwick to captain England at Six Nations
The announcement that Steve Borthwick is to continue as England captain for the upcoming Six Nations will have triggered a mixed reaction throughout the English rugby fraternity.
Martin Johnson had originally opted against naming his captain for the campaign when the squad was announced earlier this month but, despite recent criticisms, Borthwick has been retained.
The Saracens second-row has been derided by many in the media who feel he does not warrant a place in the starting line-up, let alone the captaincy, but after a period of contemplation Johnson confirmed he would lead the side.
These are testing times for Johnson. The World Cup winning captain still commands the kind of respect few others could ever hope to attain but there are those beginning to question the clarity of his managerial reign.
With the 2011 World Cup less than two years away there is a worrying lack of forward momentum within the national set-up.
The dogmatic nature of the English game does not naturally lean itself towards an attacking, flamboyant style but it is the depressing absence of dynamism from English XI’s which has begun to grate with many English followers.
Autumn’s results were a microcosm for England’s problems. After defeat to Australia they were booed off at half time against Argentina before labouring to a sluggish 16-9 win over a depleted Pumas team. The series ended with an uplifting 19-6 loss to the All Blacks but for all England’s Churchillian spirit there was little in the performance to suggest that the side was anything more than vaguely competitive.
England’s strength in depth and physicality are a given and make them hard to beat but their lack of attacking instinct has been a persistent worry. Restricting quality sides like New Zealand and Australia to less than 20 points is no good if they themselves can muster only one try every three matches; the rate achieved in the autumn.
And for those critical of Johnson’s apparent conservatism Borthwick has become a symbol of England’s linear approach. Second place at last year’s tournament sounds like a success but they were comfortably second best to Wales and Ireland, Grand Slam winners in the last two seasons.
Johnson’s limited approach is however, the product of an environment where the talent pool is limited and the injury list lengthy. Wales and Ireland might have smaller pools to choose from but this also equates to a consistency in selection and familiarity amongst the players, Johnson can afford no such luxury.
But whilst the likes of Danny Cipriani and Ben Foden, two of the rare flair players at Johnson’s disposal, are left on the fringes or excluded completely, he cannot be excused for the malaise afflicting the English game.
It may of course be all part of a plan, a cunning rouse to ensure that the English once again peak in time for a World Cup. Arguing that England Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpeaked’ in 2007 might be somewhat moot but whichever way you analyse it, they were inches from sensationally retaining the Webb Ellis trophy in Paris.
It would be typical of England to do so again in New Zealand next year but in reality their challenge begins a week this Saturday when Wales arrive at Twickenham to kick start the campaign. We wait with baited breath.