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Half Mag / Half Zine

Steve Borthwick is expected to be confirmed as England head coach this week following the sacking of Eddie Jones on Tuesday. Borthwick’s club Leicester Tigers are understood to be negotiating a compensation package with the Rugby Football Union but the former England captain will be named officially as Jones’s replacement before the weekend.

The 43-year-old Borthwick left the RFU in the summer of 2020 to join Leicester but will now return to Twickenham to fill the void left by Jones’s dismissal. The 62-year-old Australian has been relieved of his duties with immediate effect, with his forwards coach Richard Cockerill placed in temporary charge pending Borthwick’s arrival.

The precise makeup of Borthwick’s backroom staff for the Six Nations remains to be agreed, with Leicester’s Kevin Sinfield, Richard Wigglesworth and fitness guru Aled Walters all likely candidates. The Tigers, though, could do without losing their entire coaching team in mid-season and it may be that some of Jones’s assistants remain involved in the short term.

It sums up the myriad uncertainties now facing the RFU only nine months before the start of the Rugby World Cup in France next year. Jones’s seven-year tenure finished with a disappointing series of results this year but, even so, dismissing him so close to a World Cup is a big call with nine matches for Borthwick to turn around a drifting ship. England are due to begin their 2023 Six Nations campaign with a Calcutta Cup showdown against Scotland at Twickenham on 4 February.

The RFU clearly felt, though, that it could not continue to back a head coach whose side had endured their worst year results-wise since 2008. No major country in the world, either, has had such a significant turnover of backroom staff, with Jones’s demanding style and relentless work ethic having proved too much for many.

The 27-13 defeat against South Africa, and the Twickenham boos that greeted it, proved the final straw as far as the RFU was concerned. Under Jones, however, England won 59 and drew two of their 81 matches and Jones boasted a 73% winning record, superior to any other head coach including the World Cup-winning Sir Clive Woodward.

Bill Sweeney, the RFU’s chief executive, said in a statement that he was grateful to Jones “for all he has done for England across many areas of the game” and said he had made a “huge contribution” to the English game, having presided over three Six Nations titles, a grand slam success in 2016 and guided his team to the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.

Under the Australian, England also equalled New Zealand’s record of 18 consecutive Test victories in 2017 but since then they have been less consistently successful. This year England lost six, drew one and won five of their 12 Tests and won one of their four autumn games.

Jones is understood to be philosophical but disappointed by the RFU’s decision, having always stressed he was targeting success at the 2023 World Cup. He insisted, however, he was leaving with a degree of satisfaction at England’s progress under him. “I am pleased with much that we have achieved as an England team and I look forward to watching the team’s performance in the future. Many of the players and I will no doubt keep in touch and I wish them all well in their future careers.”

As recently as March, following England’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, the RFU had backed Jones, saying it was “encouraged by the solid progress the team has made”. Not everyone is convinced jettisoning Jones is a wise move now, with the former Wallaby international Matt Giteau describing it on Twitter as “the silliest thing they could do to the English rugby team” and a “big mistake”.

As a player the Cumbrian-born Borthwick won 57 caps for England and also captained his country for two years. Since retiring in 2014 he has coached with Japan, Bristol and Leicester as well as his five-season stint with England with Jones at the helm. Last season he steered the Tigers to their first Premiership title since 2013.