England head coach Steve Borthwick has laid out the roadmap for the next two weeks, as his sides undergoes the first of two fallow weeks in the 2024 Six Nations. After back-to-back wins against Italy and Wales, England are set to enjoy a weekend off ahead of their third round fixture against Scotland.
However, even though England are not scheduled for a match this weekend, Borthwick’s side will continue their training albeit on an altered schedule. The former lock discussed the upcoming plans for the England squad in the post match mix zone, after his side achieved a narrow 16-14 win over Wales last Saturday. Borthwick highlighted how even with a weekend off, fan support will be at the forefront of their plans with ‘open training sessions’.
“We will assemble at Twickenham, here, lunchtime on Wednesday. The players will then train Wednesday afternoon, Thursday morning, Friday morning. We have an open session here on Friday morning, which I think is a 10,000 sellout. It would have gone for many, many more people than that but it was limited for all kinds of reasons that mean you can’t go for more than 10,000 people.
“But we hope those 10,000 will have a great experience on Friday morning. The areas we want the big focus on through those three days are about us developing our game. Nothing’s changed in terms of that plan. I’d suggested to a couple of the more senior players to consider whether they wanted to delay coming in. And they said to me, ‘no, I want to come in at the start”.
“I can’t tell you (who). But it won’t take too many guesses. They said ‘we want to come in from Wednesday lunchtime’. We’re going to have a talk from the ERIC Club (England Rugby Internationals Club). Many of the players aren’t aware of what happens so we’ll have an understanding from the chairman of ERIC before we start training so the players understand what being part of the England rugby community is. Then there will be the weekend off before we come into that Test week.”
“The players have families and their interests, so I think they get energy from that. And having time and understanding the different demands that are on the players. And that’s important. And then secondly, making an environment in which they enjoy, be part of is also an important aspect for us.”
Despite the hectic schedule that comes with the world of professional rugby, Borthwick explained how the players and coaching staff are ready to utilise their down time. After two full on test weeks, and the preluding weeks of their training camp in Girona, the England players and coaches are ready for some time off, to come back faster, stronger and ready to bring the fight to Scotland on February 24th. Speaking on the upcoming plans for some downtime, Borthwick said:
“The players all knew in advance that after the medical checks and everything we do post-game, they are free to disperse from tonight or tomorrow moring, when they choose to go. And they always knew that they would then have the first half of the week at home. Then we’ll train for the second half of the week. That was given to them a while ago about the overall structure.
“I think it’s important to have some time away from each other and then come back in. I sense the players want to come back in from what I’ve just discussed and what Jamie talked about upstairs. In terms of, this first part we went to Girona and flew to Rome, flew back and then started here.
“The players were allowed to go home on the recovery day, Wednesday this week, if they’d chosen to. The boys knew we’d have a spell at the start of this tournament where the players would be away from home. So this break for the players and the management team is important.”
“We want to run that open session so being here at Twickenham is an important step. It makes that very feasible. We’re also doing an open training session in York in the second fallow week, on the Friday, which I believe is in an 8,000 sell out. And again, I think there could have been a lot more tickets sold for that. One in the fallow week in the south and one in the fallow weeks in the north. I think that’s an important aspect as well.”
Attendees to the aforementioned open training sessions, could well get a glimpse at two of England’s side-lined centres, as they progress along their return to the team. Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence have sat out the opening two weeks of the 2024 Six Nations, with Borthwick hopeful to see the powerhouse pairing back in the midfield before too long. Firstly speaking on Tuilagi, Borthwick said;
“He’s training well and he’s running well. We’ll gradually increase the volume of his running and there’s another session on Monday. I’ll get a more detailed report tomorrow but every report I get is positive so far.”
Then speaking on Bath centre Lawrence, the England head coach added; “He ran yesterday at Pennyhill (Park – England training camp) with our medical team and went well there. I’m due a report on where he’s at. Right now I don’t know whether he’ll be in the squad next week or not. It depends on his medical reports.
Returning his attention to the on-field action, Borthwick was happy to see his side continue their unbeaten start to the 2024 Six Nations. However, the former Leicester coach explained how there have been some teething issues within the early goings of his new squad’s coming together. Passing his judgement on England’s win over Wales, Borthwick focussed on the progression his new-look side has been showing.
“It’s about the games in front of us. Do I think we’re making progress? Yes, I think we’re growing. I thought there was growth in the team today. There’s still plenty of errors but I think, ultimately, the thing that pleases me most is the character developed in this group and that the players have bought through, that in difficult circumstances they believe they’re going to find a way and that in difficult circumstances, they keep fighting.
“They stay in the fight. And ultimately if you’ve got that, your chances go up. And when you’ve got good players as well, gradually we’ll get more cohesiveness, more experience together, train more together, and we’ll get there.”
When England return from their fallow week, next on the agenda is a trip up to Murrayfield. After taking a disappointing and controversial defeat to France, Scotland will be eager to retain the Calcutta Cup for a fourth consecutive Six Nations with a win over England. Borthwick discussed the areas of the Scotland v France game that he did see ahead of his side’s fixture, and highlighted how Finn Russell will once again be Gregor Townsend’s danger-man.
“I saw a little bit of the end of the first half, a little bit of the start of the second half and I didn’t see the start or the end. Ultimately we’ve seen.. we saw here last year what a good side they are and how well they move the ball. If you start looking at one player in particular, in Finn Russell, you’ve seen in the Premiership what an outstanding player he is and he’s the fulcrum of their team.
“He’s incredibly talented. His ability to move the ball, and you talk about his ability to see space and carry himself and the speed at which he gets the ball to his feet to kick. He’s got incredible length in terms of his kicking game and that poses multiple threats which means it is difficult to analyse and difficult to play against, but we’ll make sure we do the job we need to this week.”
With Russell topping the list, Scotland boast an extensive list of game-changing players to utilise against England. The likes of Blair Kinghorn, Sione Tuipulotu and Duhan van der Merwe are firmly on Borthwick’s radar following their impressive form so far in the Six Nations. However, Borthwick backs his side to handle the threats, with the side adding a renewed focus upon their defensive cohesiveness. Borthwick explained how his side have developed to handle the pressure in the latter stages, and will be a stronger unit for the Scots to crack.
“That was something that developed pre world-cup, if you look at all the situations the last quarter in the Six Nations last year was a weak quarter for us. We had scores that went… we let scores go there. Ultimately if you start looking back at games, the team against Scotland here they ran some in quarter four.
“If you look at different games we conceded more points in the second half. Even if you look at the August internationals down at the Millennium we were winning in Cardiff, then we were winning against Fiji, we were down by a score against Ireland and the game changes in the second half. I think we addressed that as a team [and became] fresher as we were doing a heavy training load then and we [also] addressed it tactically. But I thought we played the second half very smart.”