Head coach Steve Borthwick insists England’s experienced core of players will prove their doubters wrong despite a dire build-up to their Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina on Saturday.
Borthwick’s team suffered the ignominy of a first ever loss to Fiji, in a humbling 30-22 defeat at Twickenham in their final pre-tournament Test match last month.
It was a sixth defeat in nine matches as coach for the man who only took over from Australian Eddie Jones less than a year ago, and a fifth defeat in their last six.
The former lock, who played in the 2007 World Cup when England overcome a poor start and patchy form to reach the final, believes his players have what it takes to shock the world once again.
“As I look at this team, if you start looking at the likes of Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, the list goes on,” Borthwick told reporters at England’s base in Le Touquet, northern France.
“You’ve got players who know how to perform on the biggest occasions and that’s one of the central things we need to do this Saturday, is perform together.”
England begin their challenge for a second world crown against fellow Group D favourites Argentina in Marseille.
And despite a record home defeat to France in the Six Nations earlier this year, alongside losses to Scotland, Wales and Ireland (twice) in 2023, Borthwick is confident the team is heading in the right direction.
“We’ve seen signs of growth in certain areas and other areas have dropped off but Saturday is about building and bringing this together,” said the coach, pointing to “experienced, talented people” in the squad.
“They are determined to make sure they play to their potential… I’m very confident that come Saturday night in the Stade Velodrome, in the big pressure games, I’m very confident these players will perform.”
On a personal level, Borthwick insisted he is not feeling the pressure at the head of an underperforming giant of world rugby.
“I’d rather be involved with a team that has expectation upon it than a team that doesn’t have expectation,” he said. “It’s part of being involved with England rugby team.”
England will be without suspended pair Farrell and Billy Vunipola for their opener against the Pumas, who turned them over 30-29 at Twickenham last November.
Starting scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet and wing Anthony Watson have been ruled out of the tournament due to injury.
But England have only lost five times to Argentina in 25 matches and were on a 10-match win streak against the Pumas before their Twickenham defeat.