England coach Steve Borthwick played alongside Andy Farrell on the England team of 16 years ago. But the under pressure former lock was happy to avoid any questions about the man who could make his life significantly more difficult on Saturday.
England have brought back Owen Farrell at outhalf and Maun Tualagi comes into the centre to provide some muscle and experience. But Borthwick has also chosen to give 20-year-old Henry Arundell his first start for England against Ireland. It is a brave call from the coach who is looking for some X-factor and cutting edge from his players. The London Irish back, who has won six caps so far, starts on the left wing. He made appearances off the bench in the last three rounds of the Six Nations, after missing the whole autumn campaign last year due to a foot injury.
As well as the Farrell connection with Borthwick, it has been former Ireland coaches Declan Kidney and Les Kiss who have overseen Arundell’s development at the Exiles’ Brentford ground and put him into the position to help deny Ireland a Grand Slam.
“I pick the players because of the ability and strength they have got, and he has some incredible strengths in his game,” said Borthwick. “Yes, he is a young man, but we have all seen what capabilities he has. Ultimately, we want him to get the ball in his hands and express what talent he has, and he is a really exciting player. My experience of him is a young man who is really calm and composed.
“Henry has had time in training to build combinations with those around him. He has come off the bench and I think it is the right time to start.”
Borthwick also side-stepped questions on Farrell’s fitness and whether he was able to take part in all the training sessions during the week after injuring his ankle. “I understand the question but if I went through every single player on a daily basis I will talk about a number of modifications,” said the England coach. “Some players do part of sessions, some players miss sessions.”
Clear enough. David Ribbans is the fourth change to the England side that was beaten by a record 53-10 by France in Twickenham. But Borthwick’s focus lay in more prosaic parts of the game, the collisions and the breakdown, which they lost against the French as the game unravelled.
England were subsequently charged with not adhering to the old adage of maximum effort being the minimum standard required. “Players certainly need to understand what it means to compete with the top teams in international rugby and we fell short last week. A long way short. This week the players know they need to be much better,” said Borthwick.
“I said all along every game matters and we want to go into every game trying to win the game. I don’t want to put any ceilings or caps on players … All I’m asking of my team is to bring the very best of themselves on to the pitch. That we bring the plan on to the pitch. We never saw our game plan on the pitch last week. That’s from the very start. That’s been made clear.”
The England players are evidently fired up for the match, the threat being if they are not a repeat of France could occur. Borthwick is also of the notion that the perfect storm is unlikely to happen again.
“We have been able to get some victories and be able to compete there, but with the second best team in the world last week we fell a long way short,” he said. “Our challenge this week is to learn faster than we have ever learned, to catch up quicker. That’s what we are going to do every week, and that’s what we are going to do going forward.
“I think I saw a resolve in the team this week. What I see is a bunch of young men, very resilient young men, and you need to be resilient to be able to compete at this level.”