The Rugby Football Union’s top officials are reportedly displeased with Steve Borthwick’s approach following England’s qualification for the World Cup semi-finals, fearing that his siege mentality stance is alienating supporters. After England’s hard-fought 30-24 victory over Fiji in the quarter-finals in Marseille, Borthwick dismissed concerns about his team being perceived as underdogs, stating, “I don’t really care what other people think of us.” Prior to the match, Borthwick and captain Owen Farrell faced booing from some fans in Marseille, a situation attributed to the vocal minority by the team’s attack coach, Richard Wigglesworth.
Reconnecting with disenchanted supporters was one of Borthwick’s key goals when he assumed his role in December. However, his efforts have yielded mixed results. While there was enthusiastic backing for England’s 14-man victory against Argentina in their tournament opener, the quarter-final match saw 6,000 empty seats, and sluggish ticket sales led to the closure of the top tier of Twickenham during England’s pre-tournament defeat to Fiji.
This situation echoes former head coach Eddie Jones’s attitude in November 2022 after England’s loss to South Africa. Jones similarly expressed indifference to public opinion, a sentiment that did not sit well with the RFU officials at Twickenham. Although it remains unknown whether Borthwick faced any reprimand for his remarks, he did change his tone when announcing the team for the upcoming semi-final against the Springboks. He praised England’s fans, acknowledging their unwavering support throughout the tournament.
Borthwick acknowledged the anticipation surrounding the semi-final, expressing excitement about the upcoming match and the presence of tens of thousands of England supporters in Paris. He emphasized the unique atmosphere in the city and the special feeling that came with the team’s presence in the tournament’s semi-final stage. Appreciating the fans’ incredible support since the beginning of the competition, Borthwick expressed hope that those attending the match would have a fantastic weekend cheering on the team.
In summary, senior figures at the Rugby Football Union are concerned that Borthwick’s dismissive attitude towards public opinion might be alienating fans. Despite this, Borthwick has recognized the importance of acknowledging and appreciating the fans’ support, especially as England prepares for a crucial World Cup semi-final match against South Africa in Paris.