Steve Borthwick insists England’s battle-hardened players are ready for the Guinness Six Nations as a result of facing greater club demands than any of their rivals.
Borthwick’s 36-man squad have comfortably racked up the highest number of minutes played since the World Cup due to their Gallagher Premiership and European commitments.
But while they will enter the Six Nations depleted by a greater workload – they have accumulated over two hours of game time more per player than next highest France – Borthwick believes they have benefited from the competitiveness of English clubs.
Six Premiership teams have reached the knockout phase of the Investec Champions Cup while the domestic league itself is more compelling that ever following its reduction in teams.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 28, 2024
“The players are match-hardened, so that’s a great benefit. Generally I will try to look at the positive side and I have a group of players that are match-hardened. They are ready to go,” Borthwick said.
“The other thing is the nature of the Premiership. All of the games are counting so the leverage of all these games is huge.
“And there have been teams fighting in Europe to get qualification, fighting to find a way to win which, again, is a real positive.
“Everything we’re getting is saying all the clubs are running more than they were 12 months ago, so that’s a real positive.”
England may enter Saturday’s opener against Italy in a fitter state than they were at the equivalent stage in 2023, but Premiership duty will not have equipped them for breakdown and contact area demands of a Six Nations.
And Borthwick has also told his players that there is a minimum requirement every time they pull on a Red Rose jersey.
“The Six Nations is a real contest. It’s breakdown contest game so we need to ensure that we’ve got that running right as well as the level of repeatability around the contact area,” Borthwick said.
“We are going to improve as a rugby team. We will get tactically and technically better, and we will get fitter.
“The supporters also need to see that this team fights all the time, is competitive all the time and plays at the intensity required in an England team.
“That is the base standard and if you have that, you can add the technical and tactical elements that will then follow.”
Argentinian coach Gonzalo Quesada took charge of Italy after the World Cup, replacing Kieran Crowley, and Borthwick insists England will have to think on their feet to contain a repurposed Azzurri.
“Under Kieran Crowley Italy played a phased attack game,” he said.
“They beat Australia, pushed South Africa, beat Wales in Cardiff and in the first game of the Championship last year they went very close to beating France. This is a very dangerous team.
“Quesada played a very different style to that at the Jaguares and at Stade Francais, much more of a blend of forward dominance with competitive kicking, lower phase count.
“They are two contrasting styles so the interesting question for Italy is what can they put together in that first game? We’ll have to be ready to recognise what style they are bringing very early in the game.”