‘Borthersball’ or some iteration of fast-paced, high-octane rugby is the show Jamie George wants to put on for the English supporters.
Referencing how England cricket transformed themselves from a struggling Test unit to one of the most exciting teams to watch in world sport is on the agenda for this year’s Six Nations.
Time will tell but what we do know from the soundbites coming out of the training camp is that this is a new era, a new us, a new England. Of course, often after World Cups, that is the classic tagline.
Systemic change is par for the course post- World Cup cycles and England are no different. Gone are Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell who filled the nine and ten slots for more than a decade.
Courtney Lawes retired and so too Mako Vunipola, so it is certainly a new team in terms of personnel. The key, though, is whether it is different in terms of style and substance. That was the crux of Bazball. Although there was a slight change of personnel, it was those characters within the changing room that changed personas.
Driven by a captain in Ben Stokes and coach in Brendon McCullum who wanted only to challenge and commit their players to the new style, England took risks and early on got slammed for it. The old-school cricketing pundits and many others in the media piled on gleefully to pull apart the decision-making of their captain and players.
But England’s cricketers held firm and in doing so have produced some of the greatest performances the team’s supporters, and indeed the global game, have ever witnessed.
To commit to this style of play it seems you need 100 per cent backing from your coach, captain and other players, total support which means taking risks is not frowned upon and will go unpunished.
If England’s rugby team are to light up this Six Nations in a similar way, then it is ultimately the culture and the environment that will decide whether such an approach is possible.
Take a look at the squad. Without doubt the quality is there.
There too will be some belief after pushing South Africa hard in a World Cup semi-final. However, will there be 100 per cent commitment to a new way? Some soundbites tell you the answer to that is yes. Others indicate no.
It is likely we will see another team finding their feet. Part of the reason for that is the head coach is incredibly risk-averse. Steve Borthwick’s decision-making via data, and leaning on his staff for cultural balance, mean the shift to a Bazball mindset will need to be driven by the players.
What await England on Saturday as they kick off their Six Nations campaign in Italy are a team who have never beaten them, never even really come close to worrying an English side in recent years.
If there was ever a chance to discover what this new England are to be it is now.
Can ‘Borthersball’ be a thing? Can England rip up their gameplan of the last 18 months and indeed their coach’s lifelong mantra? It would be really nice to think they can.
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