England v Pacific Islanders
Leadership not lacking in England camp
November 6, 2008
Would you argue with this man? Steve Borthwick makes a stand at Twickenham © Getty Images
England will not lack for leaders when it comes to the crunch this month according to skipper Steve Borthwick.
The issue of leadership has generated plenty of column inches since England manager Martin Johnson chose Borthwick as his captain and then selected a relatively inexperienced squad to face the Pacific Islanders at Twickenham this weekend.
The 29-year-old Borthwick is closing in on a half century of caps and has led his country on three previous occasions but that has not stopped some, including my Scrum colleague John Taylor, suggesting this current crop of players will be found wanting in terms of leadership.
Not so according to the man charged with leading England into a new era under the guidance of their most iconic captain ever. Talking to the press ahead Saturday's clash the Saracens lock singled out the lieutenants he would be calling on and expressed the need to build a 'leadership team'.
Perhaps this is a nod to the not too distant days when England were blessed with the natural leaders of Johnson, Dallaglio, Dawson, Leonard, Greenwood and co all within the same squad. Of particular note was the confidence in the half back pairing of Danny Cipriani and Danny Care - just five caps between them but heralded as pivotal to a strong performance.
Doubts about experience were repelled with endorsments of their standing as world-class players and as the 'best players in their position right now' complete justification for their selection. It was revealed that England's expansive display in their Six Nations encounter with Ireland earlier this year was largely down to a tempo laid down by the Wasps fly-half and it is obviously hoped that the fast-maturing No.10 can orchestrate a similar result this month.
Maybe a lot to ask of any ordinary 21-year-old but we do not need convincing of his extraordinary talents. His partnership with fellow 21-year-old Care has enormous potential and the faith of Borthwick and the England coaching team is no doubt founded on more than blind faith but to heap so much responsibility on those so inexperienced leaves them open to criticism should this month's reward be fleeting.
Alongside them hooker Lee Mears, No.8 Nick Easter and the 'exceptional' centre Jamie Noon were all highlighted as key players in the 'leadership team'.
Borthwick refused to be drawn on his own leadership style - 'it's about being me' he declared and 'bringing things together'.
'We have a group of players within this team who have the required leadership skills," he said. "Cipriani and Care may be young in years but they are exceptionally mature in the way they conduct themselves and run a game. They are supremely professional. English rugby is strong, really strong.
"I've no doubt we have the players with leadership skills in this team. Some of them may be young but they are leaders at their clubs, people like Cipriani and Care alongside individuals such as Nick Easter. That axis is important and I'm not surprised the two Dannys have come through - they're exceptionally mature in the way they handle themselves, supremely professional."
Attack coach Brian Smith was another to play down the importance of Test experience, instead insisting the mind set and passion of the player is more important. Using Phil Vickery as his example he cited the 'young at heart' prop's thriving enthusiasm for the game that has been on-show in training this week.
Smith expects England's dynamic duo of Cipriani and Care to control what is expected to be an expansive approach. "I expect them to boss the attack," Smith said. "At the end of the day, Steve Borthwick is captain but you will see the little transactions, between him and the others, throughout the game."
Borthwick will lead by example but will seek the input from his key players as he looks to drag England back to the top of the world. "My role as captain, I'm there to help, I'm there to help anybody in this team to perform better and I'll certainly be talking to those guys on match day. But they're all experienced players and have earned their selection so they'll know how to prepare themselves."
"I can guarantee you right now, there isn't a more determined bloke than me to bring success to this team. I will do absolutely everything in my power to make that happen."
This weekend's guaranteed bruising encounter will not provide all the answers demanded by England fans and a story-hungry media but with the world's best awaiting them on successive weekends later this month the balance in the bank will soon be there for all to see.