Six months before England came calling for Steve Borthwick they had their card marked that he had what it took.
Leicester were completing their transformation from chumps to English champs and one of the greats of rugby was in no doubt as to why.
“Steve is one of the best leaders I’ve worked with, if not the best,” said Kevin Sinfield, rugby league legend turned Tigers defence coach. “He’s destined for great things.
“I’ve been in and around a number of international environments, albeit in the other code and, honestly, he’s as good as I’ve seen.
“He’s driven, he’s smart and probably the biggest compliment I can pay him is he cares. To find somebody with all those attributes rolled into one is unique.”
So it was that on Tuesday, as Eddie Jones’ taxi pulled away from Twickenham, Rugby Football Union boss Bill Sweeney placed a call to Leicester.
Borthwick, 43, was out on the training field, putting Tigers through their paces, oblivious to the fact he had just become Twickenham’s most wanted man.
At short notice Leicester postponed the press conference Borthwick was due to give to preview Sunday’s Champions Cup clash at Ospreys.
It was left instead to others to assess whether the Cumbrian has what it takes to turn England from also-rans in 2022 to World Cup contenders in the space of nine months.
“Steve is a super competitive individual,” said Saracens boss Mark McCall. “He’ll be unbelievably competitive in whatever job he’s doing.
“I found him a superb person to work with, a guy who understood the game very well and was always a brilliant communicator. It’s no surprise to me he’s gone on to have the success he has.
“He’s incredibly intelligent about the game but there’s more to it than that. He’s a guy with really high values. He’s very straight. People know where they stand with him.
“That’s always something players appreciate. Steve will be as honest as the day is long.”
There are 275 days until the World Cup and eight weeks on Saturday until England’s next game, at home to Scotland.
For now Richard Cockerill is minding the shop but England flanker Lewis Ludlam believes Borthwick, who spent five years as Jones’ forwards coach, could hit the ground running.
“He’s no stranger to the environment,” said the Northampton captain. “So if it was to be Steve I think he could slot straight into that role.”
The RFU should already know this for themselves as former Red Rose lock Nigel Redman has long been working to identify Jones’ successor.
“Nigel has been gathering information with real depth,” said Sale boss Alex Sanderson. “In the past there has been a public perception of who the job should fit, it should be deeper than that. It is getting the square peg for the square hole.
“I don’t think anyone can dispute that Steve has the mental tools or the experience. He’s earned his stripes.
“Has he got the mental resilience to be able to handle and cope with a job of that pressure and importance? I believe he has.”