Steve Borthwick ‘hopeful’ Owen Farrell returns for England | Kevin Sinfield ‘going in different direction’

Borthwick on Owen Farrell: “He’d grown as a person, as a player, as a leader, and the courage it takes to step away and make that decision. And let’s be clear, we’re all hoping at some stage he will come back into the England team”; Borthwick will announce next captain on January 17

Last Updated: 04/01/24 4:51pm

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England head coach Steve Borthwick has told Sky Sports he is hopeful Owen Farrell will return after the Six Nations

England head coach Steve Borthwick has told Sky Sports he is hopeful Owen Farrell will return after the Six Nations

England head coach Steve Borthwick has told Sky Sports “we are all hopeful Owen Farrell will come back”, along with revealing when he will announce his next captain and reflecting on Kevin Sinfield’s departure. 

Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports on Thursday, Borthwick spoke in glowing terms of Saracens fly-half Farrell, who has decided to take a break from international rugby to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being.

The 32-year-old, who has won 112 Test caps for England, most recently captained his country to a third-place finish at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

His form and place in Borthwick’s starting side, in addition to his interaction with referees, had come in for scrutiny, but the England is firm in his hopes Farrell will return to the squad at some stage.

“Firstly I’m full of admiration for the man,” Borthwick said. “He’s been a guy who demands respect for the way he is, and that was back when he was a 17-year-old when I was an old man at Saracens seeing this guy come through.

“He’d grown as a person, as a player, as a leader. Phenomenal – and the courage it takes to step away and make that decision.

“And, lets be clear, we’re all hoping at some stage he will come back into the England team. Owen will make that decision, if and when he chooses to.

Steve Borthwick's skipper Owen Farrell announced in November he would not be available for selection for the 2024 Six Nations

Steve Borthwick’s skipper Owen Farrell announced in November he would not be available for selection for the 2024 Six Nations

“This isn’t just about Owen Farrell, we’ve had two English match officials [Wayne Barnes and Tom Foley] step away as well from rugby, from officiating at international level, because of the outside noises and the hate and vitriol that’s there on social media.

“There’s a big societal issue there that we need to be very conscious of, that rugby’s trying to get to grips with.

“We’re ensuring we’re giving every bit of support we can to the players and the families, to ensure we deal with all those other factors that are part of society now.”

Having instilled Farrell as his captain since taking over as England head coach in December 2022, Borthwick revealed he has decided who will lead England into the 2024 Six Nations as skipper, but will not announce it before January 17.

Owen Farrell came under much scrutiny under Steve Borthwick, for his form, on-field discipline and interactions with referees

Owen Farrell came under much scrutiny under Steve Borthwick, for his form, on-field discipline and interactions with referees

“I’ll announce the captain in a couple of weeks time on January 17,” Borthwick said. “Owen is not going to be with us during this Six Nations, but we are hopeful he comes back, and the legacy of him will be.

“The way he has grown and helped other leaders within this squad. The example he has set, the support and opportunity he has given to other leaders to develop.

“During the World Cup I saw an enormous amount of leaders within our squad, a really great group that worked together to take the team forward.

“I’m also clear that you always need a leadership density, a group of leaders, and the England team has a good number of leaders.”

Steve Borthwick believes England have a number of leaders within their group, and will announce his next captain on January 17

Steve Borthwick believes England have a number of leaders within their group, and will announce his next captain on January 17

Borthwick’s assistant and defence coach both at Leicester Tigers, where he led the club to the Premiership title in 2022, and since taking the helm at England has been rugby league great Sinfield.

Yet, the RFU announced earlier on Thursday that incoming coach Felix Jones will take over as defence coach with immediate effect, while Sinfield’s role will change to that of skills and kicking coach before he departs the set-up in the summer.

“He’s achieved so much and given so much to so many people,” Borthwick said of Sinfield. “The influence he’s had in this first 12 months has reset this England team – just exceptional.

Kevin Sinfield joined England alongside Steve Borthwick, after the coaching duo lifted the Premiership title with Leicester

Kevin Sinfield joined England alongside Steve Borthwick, after the coaching duo lifted the Premiership title with Leicester

“He’s reflected, as everybody does post-World Cup, and decided to go in a different direction later on this year, away from the team.

“He’s staying with the team through the Six Nations, the summer tour, he’ll change his coaching role slightly, but we will still have Kevin helping this team develop and evolve.”

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