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Steve Borthwick admits England shirt ‘weighed heavily’ on players during Scotland defeat

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England looks on during a training session at Pennyhill Park on March 04, 2024 in Bagshot, England
Steve Borthwick hopes the shirt will help rather than hinder England at Twickenham - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

Steve Borthwick has challenged his players to be inspired by pulling on an England shirt that he believes dragged them down in their loss to Scotland at Murrayfield.

The England head coach cited the “weight of the shirt” as a factor in their 30-21 defeat from which he has made three changes with winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, scrum half Alex Mitchell and second row George Martin coming into the team to face Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.

Borthwick acknowledges that they cannot afford a repeat of their error-strewn performance at Murrayfield, where they made 25 handling errors, against what he describes as the “best team in the world”. But crucially he also wants the team to embrace the responsibility of representing the country rather than be burdened by it.

“If you look at the game this weekend, what a game for the shirt to lift you up. What a game for Twickenham to add fuel to the team,” Borthwick said. “What a game to add every ounce of energy and fight that’s within the players together, when you are going to be tested against the best team in the world.

“We know that against Scotland there were errors. It’s probably the first time in a while I’d seen the weight of the shirt feel heavy on the players. You saw how we intended to play in the way we started. If you start deviating away from the way you want to play, that leads to more errors.

“As a player and in teams I’ve been part of, I saw a lot of players feel the weight of that shirt and feel the scrutiny the team was under. The environment we want to create is supportive of the players and we understand that mistakes are going to happen. What I’m after is a response to that. What do we learn from it? How quickly do we move forward from it?”

As Telegraph Sport first reported, Exeter winger Feyi-Waboso will make his first start for England less than a year after he was turning out for Taunton Titans in the National Leagues. Borthwick has promoted other wings rapidly. He gave Ollie Hassell-Collins his debut in last year’s Six Nations but dropped him after two games while he handed Henry Arundell his first start away to Ireland where he touched the ball just four times.

Yet Borthwick has given Feyi-Waboso, who scored England’s second try as a replacement against Scotland, a licence to thrill, telling the 21-year-old to get as many touches as he can at Twickenham. “I remember years ago when (Ireland winger) James Lowe was playing for the Chiefs back in New Zealand and there was a game where he carried the ball over 20 times, he was off his wing going to find the ball and it was a model for wingers finding ball,” Borthwick said. “When I watch Manny what I see is his ability to come off the wing and pop up off 9 as he did in the Scotland game, to pop up inside and outside 10. I have seen him several times pop up in the middle and do a pick and go at the ruck because he wants the ball in his hands and we saw that in the Scotland game. That is the encouragement I have for him, get that ball in his hands.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso of England trains during a gym session at Pennyhill Park on March 04, 2024 in Bagshot, England
Borthwick hopes to see Immanuel Feyi-Waboso develop in the mould of James Lowe - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

“We’ve seen Manny progress brilliantly in this Six Nations. He’s earned this opportunity. He came on to the field two weeks ago and had an incredible impact. He’s a player who wants the ball, wants to carry and wants to get the team over the gainline.”

Borthwick has long envied the Irish system that promotes continuity and cohesion with 15 of Andy Farrell’s matchday squad coming from Leinster. Despite the fact that only two English backs – George Ford and Henry Slade – have retained the same shirts through the Championship for England, Borthwick took a thinly veiled dig at the effects of the constant chopping and changing under predecessor Eddie Jones.

“When I track this back, and the continuity of selection over the last few years has potentially not always been as evident and it’s not always helped the team to have lots of changes regularly,” Borthwick said. “And I think this is the right team for the game this weekend.

“I’ve looked closely at what’s happened with the England team in previous cycles. I’ve looked closely and compared. Things like continuity and cohesion of selection. We can all see at times that’s not really been the case. You see England has done well, generally, when they’ve had a club side that’s been dominant and has had a large number of players coming from one team. You see that with other teams as well. My challenge is to ensure and maximise all the players we have here and bring them together.

“But I also think this is a group of players that have made enormous progress over the last year, and now we’ve started the next step of the journey in this Six Nations. And the continuity of the selections, it’s an important factor.”

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