Pick captain and bolster scrum: Steve Borthwick’s big challenges as new era dawns for England in Six Nations

Pick captain and bolster scrum: Steve Borthwick’s big challenges as new era dawns for England in Six Nations

Steve Borthwick will take the reins for the first time as England head coach when Scotland head to Twickenham on February 4.

The former Test captain is still shaping his coaching set-up and weighing up his squad options before the Six Nations.

Here, we examine the pressing issues he faces ahead of the start of England's new era.

Install a captain to define a new era

Eddie Jones reverted to Owen Farrell as skipper for the autumn fixtures, but Courtney Lawes ceded the armband through injury. Farrell faces a nervous wait for the outcome of a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, but could yet be available for England's opener even if he serves a ban.

Lawes has recovered from the head-injury issues that kept him out of the autumn series and should be back from a glute problem in time for duty. Both Farrell and Lawes will feature in the conversation, while Ellis Genge will, too. Borthwick will want to set the tone for his tenure through his choice of skipper.

Farrell offers continuity and demands high standards, Lawes leads by physicality but also through savvy understanding of how to coax the best out of his team-mates, and Genge can be a tub-thumping figurehead.

Select a backline pivot at fly-half

Farrell, George Ford and Marcus Smith will all be available for the Six Nations. Ford has been out of action since the summer with a ruptured Achilles but is basically good to go now. Smith has battled ankle problems since November, but returned to full training with Harlequins last week and was quickly hitting his straps.

Smith slotted in at 10, with Farrell at 12, in England's autumn Tests that proved Jones's last at the helm. Farrell has been in sparkling form at fly-half for Saracens, though, and could step back into that role under Borthwick.

Owen Farrell faces an anxious wait over his Six Nations availability, but Marcus Smith is fit (Getty Images)
Owen Farrell faces an anxious wait over his Six Nations availability, but Marcus Smith is fit (Getty Images)

Farrell has the strength of character to play anywhere without flinching, but fly-half certainly seems his best position. Ford and Smith perhaps represent more attacking options, although Farrell and Saracens have expanded their approach this term in impressive fashion.

Bolster England's scrum

Another long-term injury to Bath's Will Stuart dents England's front-row resources. Borthwick could be tempted into recalls for Dan Cole and Joe Marler. Cole has been in fine form for Leicester and is a fuss-free operator.

Marler will be on the comeback trail this week after a two-week ban for verbally abusing Bristol's Jake Heenan. The outspoken loose-head has apologised and is determined not to repeat the error. Marler is no stranger to indiscretions, but he is also strongly supported by Harlequins and respected by his team-mates.

He is also one of the first figures at Quins to stand by colleagues and friends going through tough times. Borthwick will doubtless weigh Marler's form against any kind of risk in a recall. Whatever the personnel, England must produce a far more potent scrum than was on display in November.

Joe Marler could be recalled to the England fold despite serving a domestic ban with Harlequins (Getty Images)
Joe Marler could be recalled to the England fold despite serving a domestic ban with Harlequins (Getty Images)

Foster a new attacking style

Borthwick choosing Nick Evans to be his attack coach for the Six Nations can only augur well for fans of running rugby. The former New Zealand fly-half has been at the heart of some scintillating, fluent rugby in his tenure as attack coach at Quins. England tried to expand their game under Jones in the autumn, but only ended up losing their way.

Borthwick will hope that Evans adds an extra dimension to his meticulous and detailed coaching style. Evans has insisted England do not have enough time to rip up existing plans and start again, but that seems a little coy.

England, quite understandably, will keep their powder dry, but Borthwick and company have to sharpen up the Test team both tactically and physically.

Rebuild overall confidence

England's players said they enjoyed the November Test camp more than any in some time, but the disconnect that grew between the craved approach and performances ultimately cost Jones his job. Now Borthwick and right-hand man Kevin Sinfield must build a feel-good factor — and in double-quick time, with the Six Nations looming and a World Cup to contest in the autumn.

Sinfield will be crucial. The Rugby League great has shown heartfelt and unshakeable loyalty in his relationship with best friend and Motor Neurone Disease sufferer Rob Burrow. Sinfield will push the players hard, but will put an arm around them, too.