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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Alex Spink

England unfit for purpose of competing for Six Nations glory admits Steve Borthwick

Steve Borthwick has admitted England were unfit for the purpose of competing for Six Nations glory.

They avoided annihilation at the Aviva, a notable improvement on France the week before, pushing the world’s top side hard for an hour.

But England still finished with a losing record for the third straight championship - a hat-trick of humiliation for rugby’s best resourced nation.

The head coach made no attempt to sugarcoat the facts, running a mile from blaming defeat on Freddie Steward’s contentious first half red card.

Instead, he pointed to fitness levels, leaving the players in no doubt he expects a marked improvement before they reassemble to prepare for the World Cup.

“We have to make sure we get the condition of the players right,” he said. “We don’t want to spend the World Cup camp trying to get fit. We want to use it to get better.”

Freddie Steward is controversially sent off in first-half by referee Jaco Peyper (David Rogers/Getty Images)

Borthwick could have dwelt on improvement in attitude, commitment, energy and desire against opposition worthy of their Grand Slam, only he rightly considers these to be non-negotiables.

He preferred to drill into what he sees as one of the fundamental reasons England now lags so far behind the best in the business.

“The conditioning of the players has improved through the tournament," he said, rather damning with faint praise.

Jamie George scored England's solitary try when they were down to 14 men (PA)

“If you reflect on the last 20 minutes of the Scotland game, which was the first we played, you saw the drop off which is where Scotland beat us.

“Then you look at the conditioning of the team against what we know is a very fit and athletic Ireland team and, playing with numbers down for a considerable period of time, I think everyone could see the difference.”

The fault line in English rugby is well known. The clubs hold the player contracts, each are individual businesses with a style of play tailored to suit them rather than England.

Ireland completed their fourth Grand Slam, the first to be won in Dublin (Dan Mullan - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

“Once the players leave here and return to their clubs, we have no control over them,” Borthwick said. “We will have conversations with them and their clubs to say what we would like, but ultimately we don’t have any control over that.”

This is the continued legacy of the RFU falling asleep at the wheel when the game turned professional. Had they not, England might now have the player control Ireland so benefit from.

Borthwick dreams of a system that enables both club and international game to thrive but is not holding his breath.

England stand watching Ireland collect the spoils of victory (The RFU Collection via Getty Ima)

“That is what we all want,” he said. “A really competitive, vibrant Premiership that produces the best possible players in a condition ready to be able to compete at the top of Test rugby.

“What we don’t want is multiple Six Nations with only a couple of wins.”

The Cumbrian has never had it easy with England, but the 2007 World Cup showed him that hard work over a short period can pay off.

Bundee Aki celebrates with Six Nations Trophy and Triple Crown (Getty Images)

“That 36-0 game crossed my mind this week,” he said, referring to England’s pool trouncing by South Africa a month before they met again in the Final.

“We had to deal with that and make plans, moving forward, about what we were going to do. The team learned fast then, it's learning fast now.”

IRELAND - Tries: Sheehan 2, Henshaw, Herring. Cons: Sexton 3. Pen: Sexton.

ENGLAND - Try: George. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 3.

Ireland players celebrate with trophy (Peter Morrison/AP/REX/Shutterstock)



Hugo Keenan: Classy player whose game ended with head injury that led to Steward’s red - 7

Mack Hansen: England diffused his threat with close attention, frustrating the Aussie wing - 6

Robbie Henshaw: Assured himself national hero status with Grand Slam-clinching try just after the hour - 7

Bundee Aki: Fed Henshaw pass for try as Ireland finally exploited the extra man - 7

James Lowe: Saw little of Ireland’s jack-in-a-box wing as England largely kept him under wraps - 6

Johnny Sexton (capt): Captain Fantastic limped off to standing ovation as championship’s all-time leading scorer - 7

Jamison Gibson-Park: Tidy but nothing like his most effective game, not that he’ll mind too much - 7

Andrew Porter: Worked hard by England’s pack all day but excellent campaign from loose-head - 6

Dan Sheehan: Brilliant line for try which set Ireland on their way, then bagged second for man of match award - 9

Tadhg Furlong: Genge gave him a thorough test and was replaced on the hour by Tom O’Toole - 6

Ryan Baird: Won crucial turnover as Ireland threatened to choke to turn game in their favour - 7

James Ryan: As committed as ever and the obvious choice to succeed Sexton as skipper next year - 7

Peter O’Mahony: Not his most influential game due to England’s breakdown backlash - 6

Josh van der Flier: World player of year and now Grand Slam winner. Decent way to mark 50th cap - 7

Caelan Doris: Outstanding player though unable to escape English clutches for large parts here - 7

Replacements: Rob Herring (Sheehan 71) 7, Cian Healy (Porter 76) 5, Tom O’Toole (Furlong 59) 6, Kieran Treadwell (Baird 74) 5, Jack Conan (O’Mahony 56) 6, Conor Murray (Gibson-Park 75) 5, Ross Byrne (Sexton 74) 5, Jimmy O’Brien (Keenan 40) 6.

England scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet (Getty Images)


Freddie Steward: Harshly sent off for collision with Keenan which had to be filed under ‘rugby incident’ - 6

Anthony Watson: Slippery as an eel and showed signs of being back to his near his best - 7

Henry Slade: More involved than in previous four rounds put together. Such an underused asset - 7

Manu Tuilagi: Relished the physicality as England went to war at the gain line - 7

Henry Arundell: Won turnover to give England early ascendancy. Not overawed at all on first start - 7

Owen Farrell (capt): Brought composure to back line and ensured his team regained self-respect - 7

Jack van Poortvliet: Banished demons of his shocker against France which will do him world of good - 7

Ellis Genge: Harshly pinged for penalty that led to Sheehan’s try and set Irish on their way. Impressed against Furlong - 7

Jamie George: Articulated English dejection in week and turned to action with try here - 8

Kyle Sinckler: Conceded two early penalties but held up well in tight to frustrate Irish for an hour - 6

Maro Itoje: For much of game was the Itoje of old, which gives England real hope for future - 8

David Ribbans: Showed well but missed key tackle on Conan for Sheehan to kill contest - 6

Lewis Ludlam: Would have talen last week’s breakdown failure personally, responded as you would expect - 7

Jack Willis: Another to bounce back in style, making 20 tackles in first half alone before blotting copybook with late yellow - 8

Alex Dombrandt: A lesser player might have crumbled under fire this week, but responded really well - 7

Replacements: Mako Vunipola (Genge 65) 6, Dan Cole (Sinckler 68) 6, Nick Isiekwe (Ribbans 75) 6, Ben Curry (Willis 53) 7, Alex Mitchell (Van Poortvliet 75) 6, Joe Marchant (Arundell 59) 6. Willis returned for Dombrandt, 65.

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