OPINION – Three weeks after hailing the powers-that-be at the Rugby Football Union for breaking their self-enforced policy of not recruiting overseas rugby talent, England Rugby has hit an unfathomable and inexcusable roadblock with Bristol unwilling to part with their recently-signed coach Steve Borthwick.
I don’t blame Bristol for their desire to keep Borthwick on their books but how is it that it’s come to this “us versus them” mentality in England provincial rugby?
While it’s hard to think that Bristol will actually get their way in the next few weeks and hold onto the in-demand former England lock, their willlingness to keep him out of the national set-up for their own gain is endemic of the toxic environment plaguing England Rugby and its provinces.
Firstly, it’s tough to know how it’s happened that Borthwick has signed on the dotted line with the RFU before at least talking with Bristol regarding the vacant positions at the RFU.
Whether it’s a breakdown in communication or a media leak or just poor situation management, it’s absolutely jeopardized England Rugby’s chances of getting Borthwick, especially if the saga goes anywhere near a court room (it won’t get that far, but imagine!).
Secondly, regardless of current England Rugby contract structures, how does a provincial side pull rank over its national team?!
I could understand if Borthwick wanted to take up the Springbok coaching job and Bristol blocked it, for instance. But Bristol is an English province, their rugby team is for the purpose of making England rugby stronger on the whole.
Frankly, it’s inconceivable that Bristol are ready to “take all reasonable actions to protect their club’s position” at the expense of the England side.
If the same situation played out elsewhere in the world, there would be no qualms.
In fact, the same situation did play out with Eddie Jones who’d been in Cape Town with Super Rugby side the Stormers for all of about 8 days before being poached by the RFU last month. And, remarkably, it wasn’t even the provincial side’s national team that Jones was allowed to leave to go to.
It is incredulous to me that this internal conflict has been allowed to happen, particularly under what is supposed to be a new era under Jones.
It’s easy to point the finger at the RFU or at Bristol for allowing this to happen. You might even be able to lay some blame on Borthwick. But it’s worth sparing a thought for the newly appointed Eddie Jones.
He may not have known how tough his job would be as England coach or how poisonous the current England Rugby set-up is and where the organisation was headed when he was appointed.
After this debacle, you can be sure he does now.