Borth­wick re­veals plan to turn Ja­pan into giants

For­mer Eng­land cap­tain re­veals how his strat­egy has been adapted so that size re­ally doesn’t mat­ter

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - In­ter­view Daniel Schofield

The cogs are still whirring and the gears are still churn­ing in­side Steve Borth­wick’s head. They have never stopped. The day af­ter play­ing his last match of a 16-year pro­fes­sional ca­reer in Sara­cens’ Aviva Premier­ship fi­nal de­feat to Northamp­ton, the for­mer Eng­land cap­tain boarded a plane to Canada to start a new chap­ter as Ja­pan’s for­wards coach.

Now he faces per­haps the most for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge of his ca­reer: how to en­sure a Ja­panese pack with an av­er­age height of 6ft 2in can­not just com­pete but over­come a set of South African for­wards mea­sur­ing 6ft 5in at the Brighton Com­mu­nity Sta­dium on Satur­day. At line-outs, kick-offs and any aerial bat­tle, those three inches are a for­mi­da­ble hand­i­cap.

“The chances are that the av­er­age height of the South African for­ward pack will be taller than the tallest player in the Ja­panese squad,” Borth­wick said. “That’s re­ally sig­nif­i­cant when you are play­ing against Lood De Jager and Vic­tor Mat­field. Not only that, but guys who are 6f 8in will be lifted by 6ft 5in play­ers when our tallest guy is 6ft 5in. It is cer­tainly a chal­lenge, but it is one that I en­joy.”

It is one that he has been suc­ceed­ing at as well. Ja­pan, at 92 per cent, have the most suc­cess­ful line-out of any tier-two na­tion in the past two years. In their last eight matches, they have re­tained pos­ses­sion at 85 of 89 line-outs.

Con­tain­ing the Spring­bok li­ne­out will be an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion, which Borth­wick rates as the best in the world. For Ja­pan ball, speed, tim­ing, vari­a­tion and above all ac­cu­racy from hooker Shota Horie are para­mount, but un­like in his play­ing days, when Borth­wick would go toe to toe with Mat­field, they can­not make it a di­rect con­fronta­tion.

“You can an­a­lyse and think, ‘If I was play­ing, what would I have done’, but it is not me call­ing the line-out,” Borth­wick said. “You have to have a plan that works for the group of play­ers.

“There is noth­ing we can do to stop play­ers be­ing taller than our boys and they will be lifted by play­ers who are taller again. If we try to play rugby like most teams where it is about kick­ing, com­pet­ing in the air, line-out driv­ing and box kick­ing, we won’t be able to com­pete.

“So we have to come up with a dif­fer­ent strat­egy. That means play­ing a very fast, very high­tempo game with ball in hand. We have to be smart and we have to be tech­ni­cally ex­cel­lent. There are also op­por­tu­ni­ties in the game where it helps to be low – the scrum and the break­down. We have got to be the best in the world at those ar­eas.”

Borth­wick has been work­ing with Ja­pan on a part-time ba­sis since 2012 af­ter re­ceiv­ing an in­vi­ta­tion from Ed­die Jones, his for­mer coach at Sara­cens be­fore go­ing full time last year. Asked if it would have been healthy to have had a break from the game, Borth­wick replies: “That was the plan, but plans change.”

Just as a shark must keep swimming, so it seems Borth­wick can never stop think­ing about rugby. Sto­ries of his ded­i­ca­tion to his craft are man­i­fest. Once, Si­mon Shaw, his sec­ond-row part­ner, went for a stroll around the Eng­land ho­tel hav­ing been un­able to sleep only to find Borth­wick study­ing yet more line-out footage.

“Since 2008, I very rarely played in a game where I was not cap­tain,” Borth­wick said. “I felt you had to pos­sess an un­der­stand­ing of all ar­eas of the game. You have to be able to have con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple about what they are try­ing to achieve. It can’t just be the for­wards. You need to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing. So to do that, you need to an­a­lyse your team, the op­po­si­tion and your­self.”

Such a de­gree of in­tro­spec­tion can quickly be­come all con­sum­ing. Just look at Jonny Wilkin­son. Yet in Borth­wick’s case, it just who he is. Aged 14, he set him­self a goal of play­ing for Eng­land. “I did not know if I was go­ing to achieve those goals, but I made a prom­ise to my­self that it wouldn’t be through lack of try­ing,” he said.

Ul­ti­mately, he man­aged that 57 times, 21 as cap­tain be­tween 2001 and 2010, even if his con­tri­bu­tion was rarely ap­pre­ci­ated be­yond his team-mates and coaches.

For now, his thoughts are solely on the Brave Blos­soms. Jones has set a tar­get of qual­i­fi­ca­tion from a pool con­tain­ing Scot­land, Samoa and the USA. That chal­lenge is as much men­tal as phys­i­cal – with Ja­pan hav­ing won just one World Cup match in 24 years.

Borth­wick said: “We have to write a new chap­ter in Ja­panese rugby history.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.