Will Carling: England are stuck in a ‘data straitjacket’ under Steve Borthwick

Will Carling photographed for an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport
Will Carling believes England's players have more ability than they are currently showing - Telegraph/Paul Grover

Will Carling believes that Steve Borthwick’s England side are being constrained by a “data straitjacket” based on their performances in the Six Nations so far.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport, which will be released on Tuesday, the former England captain remarked on the frustration among supporters with the team’s style of play under Borthwick, despite the recent drive by the Rugby Football Union to improve the Twickenham Stadium atmosphere.

“First and foremost, you have to win your games. That’s what people want to watch. The crowd generally are smart enough… they want to see a team playing and using its ability and potential that it has. The frustration of late has been that it has been quite a formatted, constricted game,” Carling told Telegraph Sport.

“The players, personally, have more ability and potential than we are seeing at the moment. The crowd feel that as well. It’s almost as though they have been confined to play a certain way, and there is frustration with that.

“I don’t think it’s a development thing, it’s what this coaching team believes is the way to win rugby matches. Which is primarily driven by what they see in data. For me - it’s opinions, isn’t it - I’m sure data gives you insights into games, but if you are looking at data in hindsight, you can read stuff into that and end up reading into that in the wrong way. Whereas I think sport in essence - hence my frustration at Twickenham - is about taking risks, fulfilling potential, watching players do things which make you get up off your seat. Suddenly there’s an overlap in your 22; let’s go, let’s play.

“And I think where the frustration at the moment is - I sense that England are very much having to play a format. They are in a data straitjacket, is what I call it. I think that can be frustrating, I’m sure for players as well as fans. I might be biased, but I think we have players with more potential and ability than that. But hey, the real truth is, it’s so bloody easy when you’re sitting in the stands and I’m very aware of that.”

The 58-year-old also addressed his previous mentorship role within the England setup under Eddie Jones. Carling worked as an adviser with the leadership group, revealing that he clashed with Jones over the current England captain, Jamie George, not being part of it during Carling’s time with the side.

Carling explained: “Eddie’s view was great, and yet you always knew that his real belief was that fitness and functional playing roles, he viewed if you get those right you win games. Not leadership, environment, sense of family, identity, purpose. Nah, mate. I had a slight difference of opinion on what I ultimately really think makes a successful team. But hey, he was in charge. We had a few standup arguments, it would be safe to say. But that is the way it should be.”

The full interview with Carling will be published online on Tuesday, where he addresses his relationship with the RFU, World Rugby’s current eligibility laws and if rugby should embrace physicality.