Steve Borthwick addresses England’s controversial overseas policy in light of Jack Willis’ ‘mind-blowing’ Toulouse form

Colin Newboult
England head coach Steve Borthwick and Toulouse flanker Jack Willis.

England head coach Steve Borthwick and Toulouse flanker Jack Willis.

Steve Borthwick’s latest comments are bad news for Jack Willis, Henry Arundell and co. who are currently unable to play for England due to their eligibility laws.

No doubt all head coaches want their best players available but the Rugby Football Union (RFU) recently reiterated their desire to keep the status quo.

That means individuals plying their trade outside of the Premiership cannot be selected by Borthwick, ruling out players like Willis, Arundell and, next season, Owen Farrell.

Superb in the Champions Cup

Considering the current form of the Toulouse flanker, who was instrumental in their dominant Champions Cup victory over Exeter Chiefs, it is certainly a loss for English rugby and the national team boss.

Willis’ head coach, Ugo Mola, described his performance against Exeter as “mind-blowing” but, providing the RFU’s system remains in place, he will not be able to play Test rugby for at least another two years.

Borthwick decided not to disagree with his employers’ stance when appearing on The Good, The Bad and The Rugby podcast, but rather focused on trying to make sure other players do not follow the back-rower’s path.

The England head honcho was asked about the current exodus to France by Alex Payne, with the presenter referencing Willis’ display last weekend.

“The decision has been made,” Borthwick responded. “I’ve said this publicly before where we’ve got to create a system in England, for the clubs to be so good, the national team to be so good, the pathway to be so good that players don’t want to leave.

“If we’ve created the framework and a rule that players will only be picked from England, we’ve got to have the best competition in England.

“That’s what I want, that’s what we would all want. We all want our best players playing in England, so that’s building a system that makes them never even want to look overseas, they’ll want to stay here. That’s imperative.”

Jack Willis doubts he will ‘ever be fully at peace’ with England ineligibility

Ben Earl’s rise

Perhaps the one positive from Willis’ departure has been the emergence of Ben Earl, who featured twice in the Rugby World Cup warm-ups in the Toulouse flanker’s position at openside before establishing himself at number eight.

Earl has since become one of the best back-rower’s in the world following outstanding displays in the World Cup and 2024 Six Nations, leaving Borthwick delighted.

“I’m so happy for him and all the work he’s put in,” he said. “In the 2023 Six Nations, he and I had some challenging conversations. To his immense credit, he worked hard with the coaches at Saracens and drove his game forward.

“The other thing that needs to be recognised here is that his first 15 appearances were off the bench. Some players jump in for the first Test and are flying thereafter in international rugby, but there are other times where you give the players some time.

“Sometimes that happens by circumstance – availability of other players – and they have a run of games. Other times you stick with players and they grow to become Test match animals. Some embrace it straight away, some grow.”

READ MORE: Sir Clive Woodward blasts ‘narrow-minded’ RFU over ‘culture of fear’ with overseas policy