Inside England's turbulent preparations ahead of the Rugby World Cup

Ahead of the World Cup, ITV News was granted special behind-the-scenes access with England coach Steve Borthwick. Sports Editor Steve Scott speaks to Borthwick told about the challenges ahead

There are few England rugby fans scouring hotel websites for a room in Paris on 28 October, the date of the World Cup final.

That’s because the runners-up four years ago have had an underwhelming build-up to this tournament, and underwhelming may well be an understatement.

But what most of them don’t appreciate is the extent of the chaos Steve Borthwick, the relatively new head coach, inherited from Eddie Jones.

The Australian was sacked less than a year ago and left considerable damage in his wake.

Borthwick, suddenly offered the job he had always coveted, picked up the pieces and scrambled to get a coaching unit together to compete on the biggest stage.

He outlined the size of that challenge when we spoke on the day of England’s first World Cup squad session in early July.

“As coaches we really need to get to know the players really well; really quickly. I want the players to understand that we want to help them, we want them to be the best players they can be.

"One of the challenges we have is this is not a four-year project for us, this is a six-month project. I have only been in place a reasonably short time and in fact this coaching team only came into place five weeks ago.”

What followed soon afterwards was an intense week in Italy, in the middle of a heatwave. Borthwick was trying to create an environment where players were forced to make good, potentially match defining decisions in the most hostile conditions.

“I want to develop the way we think under pressure, you have the pressure that you could have anywhere, but now you’ve got this heat pressure, you’re going to feel so hot, you’ve got to think clearly in some of the toughest circumstances”.

Borthwick took his squad to Italy in the middle of a heatwave to try and build resilience against the heat. Credit: ITV News

Those tactics may well pay dividends given France, like the UK, is currently experiencing well above average temperatures.

The players were also given time to socialise away from the training pitch. An opportunity to build friendships and head off any potential cliques within the squad. A chance to build a unified group ready to put their bodies on the line for each other.

Borthwick is an early riser and a meticulous planner, and is in no way phased by the relentless nature of the job he has undertaken.

He’s modest at all times, yet far more animated off camera than he allows himself to be on it.

“It’s a privilege to coach this team and it’s ingrained in my life and my family’s life. So I see this as an awesome opportunity to work with a fantastic bunch of boys.”

So far so good, but then came the series of warm up matches.

Owen Farrell's absence as captain and as an influential star player have made Borthwick's job that much harder. Credit: PA

England lost three out of four, and bad tackles meant Owen Farrell would be banned for the first two group games while Billy Vuniopla would miss one.

Farrell’s absence as captain and most influential player both on and off the pitch would be destabilising enough for Borthwick’s preparations.

But a first loss to Fiji in England’s last game before the main event was also difficult to swallow.

When I spoke to Borthwick again, after he’d had a few days to digest exactly what had happened during those crucial weeks, he put on a brave face.

“I think it's a challenging period for everybody involved with the team. My sense from everything I see is this group is a team that sticks together.

"It's the team that I think faces more scrutiny than any other team in World Rugby. This team thinks it’s been written off too early. And I sense a really strong, steely determination.”

England are blessed with the easier side of the draw here, so if they can find some form, they might surprise even their most pessimistic fans.

If they can’t – then the soul searching will prove very painful for all involved.

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