Steve Borthwick condemns ‘appalling’ online abuse driving people out of rugby | Steve Borthwick


Steve Borthwick has condemned as “appalling” the online vitriol that has crept into rugby and forced Owen Farrell and others to step away from the international game.

“The online hate that is spread is not OK,” said England’s head coach. “For people to have to endure that, their families to have to endure that, to drive people out of the game, is just appalling. I don’t have the answers to it, but I do know it’s wrong and they’re not true rugby fans that are saying this stuff.

“In England alone we’ve seen a player, our captain, and two match officials step away at the top of their game because of certain issues. There are societal issues here. This is fast-paced, and changing, and I don’t think any of us expected what happened at that World Cup in that area, or for there to be that level of vitriol against certain people and certain teams.”

It remains to be seen whether Farrell, who announced in November that he had decided to take a break from playing for England in order to “prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing”, will represent his country again. Borthwick could only express hope that his captain returns one day. “That’s going to be a decision Owen makes. I am really hopeful he does,” he said. “This is one of England’s greatest ever players, greatest ever captains. I am hopeful he will return and play for England again, but I made it really clear there is no pressure on him. That’s his decision, at the time that’s right for him. But he is not going to be there this Six Nations.”

Borthwick will announce in a fortnight a new captain for the Six Nations, which begins on 2 February. He ruled out a return for his other captain at last year’s World Cup, Courtney Lawes, whose decision to retire from the international game seems set in stone, however well he may be playing for Northampton. But Borthwick is confident that Farrell has established a legacy of leaders within the squad.

At one point, in the week of England’s semi-final against South Africa, Farrell told Borthwick he wanted to lead a team meeting. “I said: ‘No problem. Do you want any of us coaches there?’ He said: ‘No, I want to lead it. A few of the players want to address the team.’ When I chatted to the players afterwards I could sense a different feeling. They shared their feelings, shared their hopes and their dreams. This was all led by Owen, but the number of players that spoke was high. That tells us about the number of leaders we have in this team.”

Another leader who will be leaving the group, however, is defence coach Kevin Sinfield. He will remain among Borthwick’s panel of coaches until after the summer tour to Japan and New Zealand, albeit changing his role until then from defence to individual skills and kicking.

Felix Jones will take over the defence coach role, having worked as an assistant to the Springboks in their consecutive World Cup winning campaigns. His brief was attack in the most recent tournament but he will adopt the counter position with England.

Tommy Freeman
Tommy Freeman is pushing for an England recall. Photograph: Mark Baker/AP

Another incoming coach, described as a consultant, is Andrew Strawbridge. He worked with the All Blacks as a skills coach at the recent World Cup, but his stint with England will cover only the first four weeks of the Six Nations.

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Meanwhile Borthwick must cast around for fresh blood when he announces his playing squad later this month. He seems particularly interested in the West Country, where Exeter’s recent form has been built around veterans such as Henry Slade, whom Borthwick left out of England’s squad for the World Cup. Slade was namechecked, as were the youngsters Greg Fisilau and Imannuel Feyi-Waboso, although the latter, whose parents are Nigerian, will likely interest Wales, where he was born and raised. Ethan Roots, the powerful back-row forward from New Zealand who is England-qualified, is another Chief impressing the England coach.

Tommy Freeman, another three-quarter who did not make the cut for France, is back in sparkling form at Northampton, where he is acquainting himself with the No 13 shirt. With Joe Marchant and Henry Arundell among those choosing to take up contracts in France, Freeman’s versatility would be valuable.

Borthwick, meanwhile, confirmed his disappointment at Arundell’s decision to sign with Racing 92. “I went out to Paris and spent a couple of days at Racing. Henry rang me a couple of weeks later and told me his decision. I said to him: ‘I’m really disappointed, because I’d love to see you in the England shirt.’ He was very clear that he wants to come back and play for England at the next World Cup.”


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