A ‘test against the best’ awaits Steve Borthwick’s England in New Zealand

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By Creative Media News

  • England confident ahead of All Blacks series
  • Borthwick encourages squad’s growth mindset
  • Young players eager to test themselves

Steve Borthwick argues that the days of England rugby teams becoming cannon fodder in New Zealand are passed as his team prepares for a two-Test series against the All Blacks. The head coach claims he has played on teams that were mentally beaten before they stepped off the airport, but he believes the current squad is a different species.

While England has not toured New Zealand in a decade and has not won on Kiwi territory since 2003, Borthwick and his team have travelled south keen to demonstrate that the balance of global rugby power is shifting. They are also encouraged by the prospect of being the first English team to defeat the All Blacks in a multi-Test series.

Borthwick is well aware that Ireland defeated the All Blacks 2-1 on their 2022 visit, and he hopes his team will be equally competitive. “One of the things I do as a coach is talk about previous experiences,” he said as his team packed their bags following Saturday’s 52-17 victory over Japan in Tokyo. I want us to be distinct. I’ve been in squads that boarded the plane without any fundamental belief. There have been some series in which this has happened.

“I want this group of guys to be excited about what we’re attempting to accomplish. Let’s challenge the top teams and see what we can do and where we can improve. We have enormous respect for New Zealand and their players, but there are also a lot of guys who want to put themselves up against the best and see how good they are.

Borthwick’s reconfigured squad’s confidence has grown since beating Ireland at Twickenham and running France close in Lyon in March. For many of their younger players, the past is becoming another country.

When I spoke to the players in the changing rooms following the France game in the Six Nations, I used the example of [engineers] attempting to break the sound barrier, Borthwick explained. “You reach your boundaries but must continue to improve and strengthen it. We realize we still have a lot of growing to do, but I want people to refrain from setting any restrictions for themselves before we enter that atmosphere. Let’s go figure out what we need to improve. Let’s go and see what works. Let’s go and take on this challenge.

“What I’m getting as a coach is that younger players are far more concerned with themselves, our team, and what we can do than with the opposition. That will alter with time. There is always a balance since we must respect any squad we play against. But I’m seeing from these athletes that they enjoy a challenge. They shouldn’t set limits for themselves. They want to see how good they can be.

Some of England’s rising stars, such as winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and No. 8 Ben Earl, show no signs of an inferiority complex.

Exeter’s Feyi-Waboso, also studying medicine and has a type 1 diabetes assignment due this week, said: “I’m interested in seeing how I compare against New Zealand. Weaknesses in my game will undoubtedly emerge, and I hope to bring my strengths.

“The All Blacks are All Blacks, but they are also human. As a fan, you place them on a pedestal; nevertheless, as a rugby player, you must keep them and yourself grounded. Everyone is the same, just good rugby players. When you speak with players who have played against them, they do not place them on a pedestal, and you follow suit.”

Earl, who played inside centre in the second half against Japan, is eager to impress in New Zealand. As a player, it’s on your bucket list. What does a die-hard cricket fan say? ‘Runs in away Ashes are usually worth twice.’ That’s a good slogan to remember when we visit that area.

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England, eager to sow doubt in Kiwi heads, has had some recent victories over New Zealand. Seven members of the squad appeared in England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final triumph against the same opponents in 2019, while the All Blacks were held to a draw at Twickenham in 2022 and were denied victory in the 2017 British & Irish Lions series, with Maro Itoje playing a significant role. “Everyone in our squad who has had the experience of playing against them has had quite positive memories, and it’s something we can feed off,” said Earl, Itoje’s Saracens partner.

“Our coaching team is so good that they will devise a strategy. New Zealand is a wonderful team, but we deserve to be part of that conversation. All the signals in this team are quite promising, and we are progressing week after week.”

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