SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: These stars proved they are right behind Borthwick

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: These stars proved they are right behind Steve Borthwick – this cruel defeat can be a watershed moment

  • Some top players are heading towards the back end of their Test rugby careers
  • This will create space for some up and coming exciting young professionals 
  • England will learn a lot from this defeat to South Africa and can be positive 

England might have lost their World Cup semi-final with South Africa by the narrowest of margins but it was their best performance since 2019 bar none.

Not since the national side beat New Zealand in the last four in Japan four years ago have we come close to seeing the sort of display Steve Borthwick’s side produced against the Springboks.

We can all acknowledge it was a limited game plan. It was what the conditions demanded and the simple fact is, it was England’s best hope of beating South Africa. It was also England’s most cohesive, unified, and stirring performance for a long time.

England stunned South Africa and it was almost enough. The faces of Manie Libbok, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi when they were substituted and the frantic animation in the South African technical box said it all about the state of panic they were in.

I think this tournament in France will prove to be a watershed moment for Borthwick as head coach. My view is he has had a strong campaign despite the South Africa defeat.

Sir Clive Woodward hailed England’s excellent semi final performance and insisted they’ll learn

Steve Borthwick will have far more confidence going forward after a decent tournament

He’ll have learned so much from the Six Nations and the World Cup. The challenge now is to build on this and see this game as a real turning point on several fronts.

England started the World Cup at a low ebb. There was not much expected of the team given the Six Nations and summer matches. So to reach a semi-final can be seen as a success.

I’m excited for Borthwick now and for the first time in four years, I feel positive about the future of English rugby. Once again, my glass is half full.

I’m sure in an ideal world Borthwick would have wanted to take charge after France. I’m sure the RFU would have wanted that, too. 

That said, it was the right decision to remove Eddie Jones at the end of last year. It should have been done two years earlier as he really was sending England down such a negative path.

Borthwick was parachuted in and given a difficult job. The performance against South Africa — who let’s not forget are the defending champions and are a better side than they were in 2019 — was outstanding for 70 minutes. 

Yes, it wasn’t enough for victory. But the way the team played showed me that, undeniably, this England squad is behind Borthwick and his coaching staff. Borthwick will carry on learning on the job.

We have to remember he is still a very inexperienced head coach and there will be no bigger lesson learned than the South Africa game. 

The RFU and England’s fans have got to totally back Borthwick now. I thought he got everything right with his game plan and selection for South Africa as well as the players he had in the squad in France.

I thought both teams were awesome. It was one for the purists.

A crestfallen Ben Earl and Maro Itoje, Earl was the standout performer for England throughout

Alex Mitchell became England’s first choice number 9 by the end of the Rugby World Cup 

The weather was actually far worse than it came across on the TV and it had a big impact on the game. But England rattled South Africa big time. They were brilliant in the first half. No other adjective is needed.

South Africa still got the job done. They made huge calls to take off Libbok and Etzebeth among others but they were proved right.

Libbok’s fly-half replacement Handre Pollard won the game. But it wasn’t just his goal kicking which was the difference. His kicks to touch were superb. Libbok was poor in that area and in tight matches in poor conditions, field position and territory is everything. That’s what Pollard delivered when he came on.

I think Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber deserve a huge amount of praise. They got their substitutes spot on and weren’t afraid to make big calls. They showed great respect for how England fronted up and the situation they were in. 

Once we saw the weather, my only real surprise was they did not start with Pollard and have Libbok on the bench.

A late change like that is not in the spirit of the game but Erasmus and Nienaber historically pay little attention to the recognised status quo and what others think.

They are currently operating on a different level to other Test coaches. I hope Borthwick looks at that and learns.

One question I would pose is: why can’t props today play 80 minutes? This is not just in an England context but across the board. Joe Marler and Dan Cole were absolutely outstanding against South Africa. 

The Boks were rattled by England and were forced to hook Manie Libbok after 30 minutes

Talismanic forward Eben Etzebeth was withdrawn early in the second half 

But the game changed totally when the starting props from both sides went off. The Springboks got on top then with Ox Nche dominating Kyle Sinckler.

It was enough to win them the game. Did Marler and Cole have to come off? Clearly, Borthwick thought so. 

But there were only 15 scrums in the entire game and most of them came in the last quarter so they shouldn’t have been that fatigued. Both teams’ hookers — Jamie George and Bongi Mbonambi — played the full 80 minutes, so why not the props?

Managing the referee is essential at scrum time. Ben O’Keeffe was clearly happy with how Marler and Cole were scrummaging. So why change that narrative? Until it is obvious your props have lost the referee, don’t change anything.

That’s when the new guys can come on, put an arm around the ref, and say: ‘We’ll sort this out for you.’ Jason Leonard was the king of this.

I was shocked when I got home from Paris yesterday to read of the alleged racist slur Mbonambi directed at Tom Curry. 

We’ll just have wait to see if Mbonambi is found guilty. The game must have zero tolerance towards racism and these allegations have left a sour taste after a brilliant game.

England and Borthwick will now have to build a new team for the Six Nations and beyond. Courtney Lawes has confirmed he will retire and Marler, Cole and others will likely do the same.

But there’s a young, exciting spine which remains. Borthwick must work out what he wants to do with Marcus Smith long term. 

England didn’t really look like scoring a try against South Africa. Borthwick will know England need more strings to their bow if they’re going to win a World Cup.

My main advice to Borthwick would be to ditch the narrative he and the players have used that they’re embracing the fact everyone else hates England.

Such an approach can work short term. But it is not a long-term strategy and frankly, it’s not true. Borthwick and the national side have got to promote the game and open up to the media. 

Owen Farrell faced a fair amount of criticism before the tournament but impressed yet again

Courtney Lawes called it time on a stellar Test career to spend more quality time with his family

We want to do the opposite of what the team is doing now. The way to do that is through playing attractive rugby. I want to see a real interest created in the team by showcasing these brilliant individuals and opening doors.

Borthwick has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build on this World Cup and have real success.

A bright future is possible and although the South Africa defeat was heartbreakingly cruel, I hope it really is a watershed moment for English rugby.

I am already looking forward to the Six Nations and I did not think I would be saying that a few weeks ago. Well done England.

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