Steve Borthwick is set to be confirmed as England head coach this week after Eddie Jones was sacked on Tuesday. Borthwick club Leicester Tigers are reportedly negotiating compensation with the Rugby Football Union, but the former England captain will be officially appointed as Jones’ replacement before the weekend.
Borthwick, 43, left the RFU in the summer of 2020 to join Leicester but will now return to Twickenham to fill the void left by the dismissal of Jones. The 62-year-old Australian has been relieved of his duties with immediate effect, with his forwards coach Richard Cockerill temporarily appointed pending Borthwick’s arrival.
The precise line-up of Borthwick’s backroom staff for the Six Nations is yet to be agreed, with Leicester’s Kevin Sinfield, Richard Wigglesworth and fitness guru Aled Walters all likely candidates. The Tigers, however, could get away with losing their entire coaching staff mid-season and some of Jones’ assistants may remain involved in the short term.
It sums up the myriad of uncertainties the RFU now faces with just nine months to go until the start of the Rugby World Cup in France next year. Jones’ seven-year tenure ended with a run of disappointing results this year but, even so, sending him so close to a World Cup is a big call with nine matches for Borthwick to turn around with a drifting ship. England are due to start their 2023 Six Nations campaign with a Calcutta Cup showdown against Scotland at Twickenham on February 4.
The RFU clearly felt, however, that they could not continue to support a head coach whose side had suffered their worst year in terms of results since 2008. Nor had any major country in the world experienced a turnover. equally important behind-the-scenes staff, with Jones’ demanding style and relentless work ethic proving too much for many.
The 27-13 loss to South Africa and the boos from Twickenham that greeted it broke the camel’s back when it came to the RFU. Under Jones, however, England have won 59 and drawn in their 81 games and Jones boasted a winning record of 73%, better than any other head coach, including Sir Clive Woodward, World Cup winner.
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said in a statement that he was grateful to Jones “for all he has done for England in many areas of the game” and said he had brought a “huge contribution” to the English game, having presided over three Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam success in 2016 and guided his side to the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.
Under Australia, England also equaled New Zealand’s record of 18 consecutive Test victories in 2017, but have seen less success since then. This year England have lost six, drawn and won five of their 12 Tests and won one of their four autumn games.
Jones is seen as a philosopher but disappointed with the RFU’s decision, having always stressed he was aiming for success at the 2023 World Cup. He insisted, however, that he left with some satisfaction at England’s progress under him. “I’m happy with everything we’ve achieved as an England team and can’t wait to see how the team performs in the future. Many players and I will no doubt keep in touch and I wish them all good luck in their future careers.
As recently as March, following England’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, the RFU had backed Jones, saying they were “encouraged by the solid progress made by the team”. Not everyone is convinced that dumping Jones is a wise move now, with former Wallaby international Matt Giteau describing him on Twitter as “the dumbest thing they could do to the England rugby team” and a “big mistake”.
As a player, Cumbria-born Borthwick earned 57 caps for England and also captained his country for two years. Since retiring in 2014, he has coached with Japan, Bristol and Leicester as well as his five-season stint with England with Jones at the helm. Last season he led the Tigers to their first Premiership title since 2013.