sport news New England coach Steve Borthwick is Mr Innovator... and he makes players feel ... trends now
Steve Borthwick was just 32 when he boarded a flight to Tokyo for his first coaching job. He was playing for Saracens at the time, and his knees were inflamed as he landed in Japan to work alongside Eddie Jones in the Asian Cup.
‘He was captaining Saracens at the time and his knees were shot, swelling up on the plane,’ recalled Japan talisman Michael Leitch. ‘What struck me was his ability to learn the language. He already knew a few Japanese words when he turned up — speed up, slow down, jump, left, right.
‘We had guys who had been in Japan for 10 years who couldn’t speak a lick and he knew more words than them after a couple of weeks. Eventually he could hold a 10-minute conversation in Japanese. His feedback was pretty much all in Japanese. He was like a sponge.’
Travelling out for two weeks at a time, long before he had children to think about, Borthwick took charge of the lineout. His attention to detail caught the eye.
Japan’s players were smaller yet by the time the 2015 World Cup rolled around, when they famously beat South Africa, they had the best set-piece in the competition.
England head coach Stuart Borthwick reads a wide range of books to inspire his novel ideas
‘There was a reason behind everything,’ said Leitch. ‘The amount of detail was unbelievable. Little things like the way you lift — he would correct your thumbs inside rather than outside to stabilise the jumper. He would go through blurry footage and pick up on it, “Michael Leitch, your thumbs are on the outside”.
‘He was extremely strict on maximising those micro-skills and it worked. We had success.’
Borthwick’s earliest mentors from Preston Grasshoppers, where he played in the Colts, recall a youngster with ‘a brain like a Filofax’. Now 43, he keeps a notebook with him at all times, storing memos in a filing system.
Following Jones into England’s coaching set-up in 2015, Borthwick’s family settled in Somerset. England’s players regarded their new coach as an innovator. A step ladder became part of the inventory list wherever the team travelled, with the former lock standing on the top step to claim practice lineout throws.
‘He had us chucking soap-soaked balls at targets while wearing boxing gloves,’ recalled skipper Dylan Hartley. ‘He was always thinking of ways to test us.
‘The toughest test was trying to throw an American football covered in washing-up liquid while wearing boxing punch-pads, while balancing on a wobbly ball.’
Never one to seek the limelight, Borthwick operated in Jones’s shadow. He preferred to be hunched over his laptop, crunching data, rather than speaking at press conferences.
Underneath the surface was a thoughtful man, conscious of others. Father to two boys — Chase, seven, and Hunter, nine — he was asked a deep question in 2016: would you want your boys coached by you? The answer was an unequivocal no and by the time he joined Leicester in 2020 he was seen as a calming