CHRIS FOY: Steve Borthwick has made himself the prime candidate to replace Eddie Jones at England after Leicester Tigers’ French scalp… and it’s unthinkable imperious George Ford won’t play for his country again
- A last-gasp George Ford penalty saw Leicester Tigers beat Bordeaux Bègles
- Steve Borthwick’s Tigers team have made a perfect start to the season
- The coach must surely be a front-runner to succeed Eddie Jones at England
- Ford was superb, he must play for his nation again despite Marcus Smith’s rise
At this rate, George Ford will surely play for Steve Borthwick again after this season — despite his deal to move from Leicester to Sale next summer.
On Saturday, the Tigers added a major French scalp to their growing stockpile of English ones to maintain a perfect start to the season, overseen by their head coach and inspired by their out-going playmaker.
Between them, Borthwick the mastermind and Ford the master conductor are driving a remarkable Leicester revival which could lead to a title or even a Double.
George Ford scored a late penalty to seal Leicester Tigers victory over Bordeaux Begles
Steve Borthwick has overseen an incredible turnaround and will be on England’s radar
The Heineken Champions Cup success against Top 14 leaders in Bordeaux was a glorious throwback to when the East Midlands club used to be a force in Europe. Borthwick had opted to rest a handful of leading players and still the Tigers managed to grind out a backs-to-the-wall victory.
The result epitomised a staggering transformation which has yielded 12 straight wins in all competitions.
When the RFU set about identifying the man to replace Eddie Jones as England head coach, Borthwick — who was in charge of the national side’s defence from 2015 to 2019 — may have made himself the prime candidate. He is lauded as a technical coach but now he is proving that he can take charge and make difficult decisions.
However, if the union decided to target Borthwick, they may have to consider changing the structure of the England hierarchy.
Tigers stunned Bordeaux on Saturday despite 11 changes to the team that beat Harlequins
Other potential contenders such as Rob Baxter, Alex Sanderson, Andy Farrell or Jones’s current assistant, Richard Cockerill, have a more natural instinct for the public demands and scrutiny of such a high-profile role, whereas Borthwick is happiest operating under the radar, where he can focus on planning and analysis.
So the RFU might be advised to weigh up appointing a director of rugby figure, to take care of the bigger picture aspects of managing the national set-up.
That would allow Borthwick to focus on being in charge of team matters, from selection to coaching to tactics. Of course, such a scenario relies on him wanting the job, which is only likely if he feels he has completed his Tigers mission — and that box won’t be ticked until a trophy is in the Welford Road cabinet.
Meanwhile, Ford is in vintage form and, at 28, it is unthinkable that he won’t play for his country again, despite the emergence of Marcus Smith. The Leicester fly-half was imperious in France, despite often having to operate on the back foot.
His control, decision-making, vision and execution were exemplary. One attack featured a rushed but precise left-foot kick into space by Ford, followed by a pinpoint right-foot cross-kick. It was creative genius under pressure.
Week after week, he keeps proving his Test class. Borthwick will know he still has so much to offer.
George Ford had another incredible game and will surely play for England again
The Last Word
There was a mixture of backs-to-the-wall honour and abject surrender in the Champions Cup over the opening weekend. Cardiff led the honour list.
The Welsh region needed to bring in part-timers to fulfil their fixture against mighty Toulouse and while the hosts lost 39-7 at home, they won universal admiration for their courage in adversity.
The footage of rookies being welcomed back to their local clubs as heroes was an endearing post-script.
In contrast, too many clubs are treating European competition as an inconvenience and Montpellier were the worst offenders, with a selection against Exeter which amounted to a pre-match capitulation and should generate a disrepute charge.
Meanwhile, it is a measure of how far Bath have sunk lately that their 45-20 defeat at Leinster came across as a defiant, spirited effort in a hopeless cause.
Sadly, too many clubs are going into the continental tournaments with a no-hope attitude which undermines the whole concept.
Top try: Finn Russell was typically brilliant in Racing 92’s rout of Northampton. The Scotland fly-half counter-attacked from deep on the right and a sublime off-load released Wenceslas Lauret to score.
Classy assist: World Rugby Player of the Year Antoine Dupont justified his billing in Cardiff with an epic performance featuring an audacious, flat cross-kick to set up a try out wide for Hugo Bonneval.
Landmark treble: Exeter ran amok against Montpellier and, remarkably, their most prolific finisher was Jonny Gray — the first lock to score a hat-trick in Europe’s premier event.
Vanishing act: Leicester wing Harry Potter was lucky to avoid injury after hopping over an advertising board in Bordeaux, only to plummet into a concrete ‘moat’ around the pitch.
Great escape: Championship leaders Ealing Trailfinders were 17-0 down at half-time at Richmond, but rallied after the break to win 33-24 and stay just ahead of Cornish Pirates in the table.
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