x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

'Difficult call' to axe Borthwick from elite squad

The former captain has been dropped from England's 32-man elite squad for the coming season and replaced by Dave Attwood, the uncapped Gloucester lock.

Steve Borthwick, the former captain, has been dropped from England's 32-man elite squad for the coming season and replaced by Dave Attwood, the uncapped Gloucester lock. Borthwick's fall from grace has been rapid and it represents a marked change in direction by Martin Johnson, the England manager. Johnson had stood by Borthwick in the face of widespread criticism over the last two years and the Saracens lock captained England for 20 consecutive Tests until he was sidelined by a knee injury.

Borthwick, 30, missed England's Six Nations game against France followed by the summer Test series against Australia, and he has now paid the ultimate price. From being a captain with 57 caps, Borthwick is now not considered to be among the top four locks in England with Attwood joining Tom Palmer, Courtney Lawes and the veteran Simon Shaw. Lewis Moody successfully assumed the captaincy, becoming only the second man - after Johnson in 2003 - to lead England to a Test win over the Wallabies in Australia. Fitness permitting, the Bath-bound flanker is now set to captain England into the 2011 Rugby World Cup while Borthwick is fighting just to make the plane.

Said Johnson: "Leaving Steve Borthwick out was a very hard decision. He's done a fantastic job for England over the last couple of years and it's the most difficult call we've had to make. "It is very tough on Steve but it goes to show the depth of talent we've got in that area. We want to build on what we've done this summer and a southern hemisphere tour that was hugely beneficial and a really positive experience for the group.

"We were able to give lots of opportunities to players and expose them to a high level of rugby." Johnson has also axed Ugo Monye and Mathew Tait, while Louis Deacon and Lee Mears join them in being relegated to the second-string Saxons squad. Ben Youngs, the Leicester scrum-half, and Dan Cole, a prop, are officially promoted into the seniors after establishing themselves in the Test team during England's tour of Australia and New Zealand.

* PA