Steve Borthwick will watch Leicester’s match on Sunday against Bath, the club where he made his name as a second row, at home on television with the volume turned down as he isolates following a Covid-19 outbreak at Welford Road, seeking a cure for a malady that started long before 2020.
“When we won in Bayonne last month, it was the first time Leicester had done so in France for seven years,” says Borthwick, who took over as head coach in July when the Tigers were one off the bottom of the Premiership but spared a relegation scrap because of Saracens’ disgrace.
“That reflected the decline of the club. When I started, we had a lineout and scrum ranked 11th in the Premiership and our attack and defence statistics were poor. The first priority was to get the team fit because 12 times in the two years before I joined, Leicester were winning going in the final 20 minutes but lost. We have made some development, but we are nowhere where we need to be.”
Borthwick’s efforts to get Leicester, who used to be a fixture in the Premiership final at Twickenham, back to where the best-supported club in England expects to be have been hampered by the pandemic. The Tigers have had to shut their training ground twice because of an outbreak of the virus and they go into the Bath game having trained together for two days and below strength.
“It is frustrating, but there are a number of people in the world in a worse situation than us,” says Borthwick. “We need time on the training field to develop in the areas we need to, but it has not been the most straightforward time in which to develop.
“We are fortunate to have Aled Walters on the coaching team: his technical knowledge is outstanding and he has the ability to get players to give more.”
Leicester have finished in the bottom two in the past two seasons and were set to return there before the start of the latest round, with Worcester likely to be awarded four points following the cancellation of their match against Harlequins. The number of games being called off with no time to rearrange them has prompted some to question whether relegation should be suspended.
“I only focus my attention over things I have an influence over and that question is not one of them,” says Borthwick. “Everyone is trying their hardest in challenging circumstances and we are managing the circumstances as well as we can. At a time like this you need to be adaptable. I make a number of plans so that you can pull the necessary one off the shelf.”
Fixtures between Leicester and Bath were once the highlight of the club season, but the clubs fell some way behind Saracens and then Exeter in the Premiership and Europe.
“We know we have a big challenge on Sunday,” says Borthwick. “Look at the squad Bath have developed and the money they have spent on it over the years. They have invested in their training ground and they have shown their spending power.
“Bruce Craig [Bath’s owner] has high expectations for his team and they will be disappointed at the start to their season given the money he has put in.
“I will watch the match on television, without the commentary because that is always my habit, and send instant messages to the coaches, but I will be back on the training ground from Tuesday.”