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Borthwick excited by Japan chance

AFP-JIJI

Ex-England captain Steve Borthwick has said he’s looking forward to working with former Wallaby boss Eddie Jones on a full-time basis when he becomes the forwards coach of Japan following his retirement.

The 34-year-old lock will finally hang up his boots and call time on 16 years of top-flight rugby after leading Saracens against Northampton in the English Premiership final at Twickenham on Saturday.

Borthwick spent a decade with Bath before current Japan coach Jones, then in charge of Saracens, brought him to the north London side in 2008.

The veteran forward helped coach Japan last year for two tests against Wales culminating in a 23-8 win — its first victory over the principality — in Tokyo.

“The club (Saracens) is incredibly supportive of giving players opportunities to develop their interests after (playing) rugby,” said Borthwick, speaking at Saracens’ training ground in St Albans, north-west of London, on Tuesday.

“For the last couple of years, Eddie gave me an opportunity to be involved with the Japan rugby team and that relationship has grown. He then asked me to join the team on a full-time basis once I retired from playing.

“It was an opportunity to work under a fantastic coach like Eddie Jones and learn, which has already been great for my development,” added Borthwick, who won 57 England caps.

“While I’ll no longer be on the field myself, to hopefully assist players in their own development, that appeals to me.”

Last weekend, Japan qualified for next year’s World Cup in England by beating Hong Kong 49-8, and Borthwick insisted the Brave Blossoms were going places.

“I think the group is an exceptionally ambitious, hard-working group that is eager to learn,” he said.

Japan is also due to stage the 2019 World Cup, the first time the tournament will have been played outside of one of rugby union’s traditional strongholds, and seen by many as an important staging post for the Asian game.

But Borthwick said he wasn’t sure if he would still be involved with Japan in five years’ time.

“At this point in time I’m contracted to coach them through this World Cup and the next period of time,” he said. “So we are looking at the next couple of years, I’m not thinking beyond that.”

Saracens boss Mark McCall, whose side was beaten 23-6 by star-studded French team Toulon in last Saturday’s European Cup final in Cardiff, insisted Borthwick had all the attributes required of a top-class coach.

“He’s very analytical, which is critical, but Steve manages people well. That’s the most important thing,” McCall said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Jones said that having Borthwick on board would be a huge boost for Japan.

“He’s a guy who’s played over 300 Premiership games, captained England 21 times and he’s just retiring from the game so he brings all this modern knowledge of how to win the line-out and general forward play,” he said.

“He was the first signing I made (at Saracens) and he’s helped change the club. When I first went to Saracens in 2006, they were in the relegation zone and now they’re in the top two clubs in Europe, which is a fantastic achievement and the consistency of all that has been Steve Borthwick as captain.”

If Japan, which has appeared in every World Cup to date but won just the one match, qualifies out of a 2015 Pool B also featuring South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and the United States, it could play England in the quarterfinals.

But for Borthwick, a patriotic Englishman, that’s a dilemma for another day as he bids to lead Saracens to a repeat of their 2011 Premiership title success.

“Whilst I know what I am doing after this point in time, until Saturday I am a rugby player with Saracens,” the second row explained.