"England will now stay in that fight" - Steve Borthwick commends the resilience of his young team ahead of All Blacks second Test - Ruck

 “England will now stay in that fight” – Steve Borthwick commends the resilience of his young team ahead of All Blacks second Test

Despite not coming away with a rare win over the All Blacks, there are plenty of positives to take from England’s performance in Dunedin. The tourists impressed their early-morning audience back home, and came agonisingly close to their first win against the All Blacks on Kiwi soil since 2003.

With the toughest Test matches decided by the narrowest of margins, England took a one-point defeat to New Zealand, with the final score reading 16-15 at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. This is by no means an England team that are out to make up the numbers at Eden Park, with Steve Borthwick ambitious to see his side ‘stay in the fight’, and end the All Blacks 30-year unbeaten streak at their awe-inspiring Auckland arena.

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“There was a point in time when an England team didn’t stay in the fight.” Borthwick told the media over a coffee, as the coach reconvened the morning after the defeat in Dunedin. “I think there’s a spirit in the team that will ensure England will now stay in that fight.

“The development of the game in attack, we said it would take some time and I think you can see it coming. I think you’re seeing a team that wants to be aggressive with the ball and are starting to understand each other more. The more they can play and spend time together the quicker the acceleration and growth of the team is going to be.”

After the defeat to the All Blacks last Saturday, England number eight Ben Earl expressed how his side has grown insurmountably since the 2024 Six Nations. The opening test against Italy featured five new caps, as Borthwick unveiled the first wave of his new-look England squad. Last weekend, Borthwick’s newest caps Fin Baxter and Ollie Sleightholme made their debuts in Dunedin, with the next steps completed upon introducing this new era of England players.

Fin Baxter of Harlequins before the Gallahgher Premiership match between Saracens and Harlequins at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London on 25 March 2023 (Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK)

“As we grow as a team, we don’t want to be on the end of those results, we want to be winning those games. As we grow as  a team we need to be able to convert those. As we grow as a team, how we convert those to wins is going to be important.

“The margins are very small, clearly England have closed the gap, because there was a gap and England have closed the gap. What I sensed in the changing rooms afterwards was a huge amount of disappointment and frustration as well as pride. We want to be winning, there was an opportunity but ultimately we didn’t get across the line.”

Despite England’s young contingent not getting the result they sort after in the opening Test with New Zealand, Borthwick relished in the learning opportunities that his players can take from the defeat. Just 10 members of the match day 23 had previous experience against the All Blacks, with the likes of Leicester lock George Martin learning valuable lessons against the mystical men in black.

George Martin of England is tackled by Christ Tshiunza of Wales and Keiron Assiratti of Wales during the Summer Nations Series Rugby match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium on August 5, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“I had a very similar conversation with George Martin after the game yesterday. Going through the experience is really important. Now we can sit with the players and talk about what we do in these crucial moments under the highest pressure.

“I think that’s going to be really beneficial for us. One of the things the players need is the belief they can compete with the best teams in the world. They’re very close to winning games against the best teams in the world.

“Sometimes you need to get to that point, I can talk about it, I can evidence it but until the players go into that circumstance that’s only when they can really truly believe it I sense a group of players who came off yesterday thinking they could have won that one and they’re determined about next week.”

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

Borthwick’s praise of Saturday’s on-field performances was not limited to just his players, as the England head coach held up his hands to applaud the display from the All Blacks. New Zealand kicked into their feared top gear for the opening Test of their season, and Borthwick had not witnessed such a cutting-edge to the All Blacks in quite some time.

The marker has certainly been laid down from the tour hosts, yet this could well play into English favour as Borthwick now knows what to expect at Eden Park. Whilst there was an element of suprise from Scott Robertson’s first run at the helm, the former Crusaders coach has now played his first hand, and Borthwick wants his England team to go all in to respond.

“I haven’t seen a New Zealand team play like that very often. Credit to them. Whether that is the way they want to play, I don’t know. But I haven’t seen a New Zealand team play like that. I thought Beauden Barrett’s impact off the bench was very good.

“When you bring a player like that off the bench is significant. Credit to the England players for putting pressure upon the opposition and changing the way the opposition played. Then we had to find a way to win that arm wrestle. Second half we scored a try and they scored two penalties. There is not much in it. But we want to make sure we win that arm wrestle.”

Despite not responding to the All Blacks’ immortalised haka with any pre-match antics, England certainly rose to the challenge in their on-field response. Borthwick liked what he saw in the one-point defeat, and emphasised his eagerness to see his players puff out their chests and ‘play big’, when the grand occasion of Eden Park comes calling. Confidence is key in the eyes of the England head coach, and the first Test set a precedence of intent for the season finale.

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England Rugby during the England Rugby Captains Run ahead of the Six Nations Match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium, London on 24 Feb 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“Overall, I never want the players to play small. I think they went out yesterday and they tried to play big. That will be a consistent message they receive from me. That was one of the things that really pleased me in the first half and the start of the second half. Potentially, later in the game we weren’t as aggressive with the ball as we could have been. To take those one or two chances, you have to be.

“Our support needs to tighten up a bit, so we have got people closer to the ball quickly. We know NZ are physically a powerful team and they want to attack the opposition breakdown so that is where you need your support.

“There is a balance. There was a turnover earlier in the game. Someone was running support line for an offload but the offload didn’t come and we lost the breakdown. So there is a balance. We understand that as coaches. The overall intent: I still want the players to play big.”

Borthwick’s young guns are playing with no fear, and such qualities are embraced in this land of mystique and rugby history. Eden Park has been in the forefront of media discussions this week, as England aim to end three decades of All Blacks dominance this Saturday in Auckland.

Echoing the words of his hard-hitting vice-captain Earl, Borthwick hammered in how his youthful group have no pre-empting anxieties about storming the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby. The head coach is putting all the pre-match pressure upon his opponents, and thinning out the ice under the All Blacks’ auara, as they defend their Eden Park streak.

“One of the positive things about the group we now have is that most of them are young, they haven’t played at Eden Park before, most of them have only just played against New Zealand for the first time. I sense that they just love playing rugby and they just love testing themselves so they can’t wait to get into another Test arena and see how they perform.

“The expectation will be on New Zealand. They’ve said that they’ll be better next week. They are going to produce a team that’s going to be more experienced than ours and older than ours, and they are playing at Eden Park, so the expectation is all on them.

“To be clear, for us, we will be going there to put ourselves in a position to win the game, which we didn’t quite do yesterday, so we have to be better. We will be a better team because we’ll train well this week and all those messages from yesterday, we will put into practice this coming week. Our intention is to put in a better performance next week.”