Steve Borthwick set for arranged marriage with England's assistant coaches

Steve Borthwick will not get his dream ticket of assistant coaches - Getty Images/David Rogers
Steve Borthwick will not get his dream ticket of assistant coaches - Getty Images/David Rogers

The longer it takes for Steve Borthwick to settle into the throne running England's men's side, the more complicated his appointment feels. Mid-December is no time to be attempting to build a backroom staff unless you want to part with a considerable amount of money to do so.

While Telegraph Sport's exclusive story on Wednesday suggested that a deal for Borthwick is edging closer – at a cost of £1m after Borthwick signed a previously unannounced contract extension following Leicester's Premiership title win at the end of last season – of greater interest was the news that Kevin Sinfield, Leicester's defence coach, and the club's head of physical performance, Aled Walters, are unlikely to follow Borthwick to Twickenham.

Missing out on both backroom staff members would be a coup for Leicester and a hammer blow for England in equal measure. Sinfield has become one of the leading defence coaches in the country, while Walters' proven success with first the Springboks and now Leicester – and the high praise for him from players in both of those camps – suggests he would be a valuable addition.

Minimising disruption as much as possible by promoting Sinfield to head coach appears to be Leicester's plan and makes sense. Losing Borthwick will hurt, but losing the core of the backroom staff who helped to produce a first league title win in nine years would be a major setback.

That leaves Borthwick in the slightly awkward position of pitching up at Pennyhill Park to work with the assistant coaches that Eddie Jones has left behind, one of whom, Brett Hodgson, has only just taken charge as the team's defence coach following Anthony Seibold's return to Australia.

Having all three of Borthwick, Richard Cockerill and Matt Proudfoot in place is either an abundance of forward pack expertise or too many cooks, depending on your viewpoint.

Proudfoot in particular felt under pressure after England were comprehensively taken apart by the Springboks at Twickenham at the end of November, a display of such scrummaging dominance that even the one penalty which went against South Africa, when Frans Malherbe sent Mako Vunipola's legs over his own head, appeared highly questionable on review. If the RFU were looking to trim the fat a little, then Proudfoot would have to be considered.

Matt Proudfoot saw England's pack dismantled by the Springboks at Twickenham - Getty Images/David Rogers
Matt Proudfoot saw England's pack dismantled by the Springboks at Twickenham - Getty Images/David Rogers

Assuming that Sinfield remains at Leicester as expected then the rest of Borthwick's options appear fixed. England's attack felt muddled throughout the autumn, hinting at excitement in those final 10 minutes against New Zealand while otherwise generating frustration.

Leicester can play when they have to but otherwise there is a clear structure in place – win the kicking battle, control the air, force turnovers, bully at the set piece – which Martin Gleeson, the leftover attack coach, will have to adapt to.

Richard Wigglesworth, still playing at 39, has been the attack coach for Leicester, while Sam Vesty's expansive approach at Northampton has earned him plenty of admirers. Perhaps in a post-2023 rebuild – when Borthwick was ideally meant to take over – Vesty would have been the best choice even if there is a philosophical difference with the expansive attacking template installed at Northampton compared to Leicester's more direct approach.

Having a blend of those two styles feels like the best outcome, particularly if England want to get the best out of Marcus Smith – if he remains the starting fly-half, which is not guaranteed – or their wingers, whose touches in the autumn were limited with their time largely spent chasing kicks and looking for work.

Borthwick and Cockerill between them have more than enough nous to improve England's pack, and you have to feel a degree of sympathy for Hodgson, who was set to become the fourth defence coach under Jones in eight years after Paul Gustard, John Mitchell and Seibold.

Hodgson, 44, had the opportunity to shadow Seibold in the autumn and as a result must have come out of the campaign with a dossier ready to hit the ground running. Although when you consider how England fared in the autumn across the categories of set-piece, attack and defence, arguably the latter is the least of their concerns.

Borthwick is the last head coach to look for excuses or highlight weaknesses, but who could blame him if this arranged marriage between himself and a backroom staff he did not choose leaves him feeling slightly disgruntled.

There is no all-star coaching team assembled with unlimited funds to give Borthwick the easiest start to coaching the national side. It is an awkward, mashed together hybrid of previous failure – in the RFU's eyes after sacking Jones – and a hope that the new head coach can get more of a tune out of the assistants who remain under contract.

Combining Borthwick with the core of his Leicester coaching staff – Sinfield, Wigglesworth, potentially Walters and with Vesty thrown in to liven up the attack – would have been a clearer indication England were turning a corner. Instead, these are the pitfalls you face when hiring a new head coach 10 months out from a World Cup.