Borthwick out to emulate greats

Steve Borthwick could join an exclusive England club in Auckland next Saturday. [more]

Borthwick out to emulate greats

Steve Borthwick could join an exclusive England club in Auckland next Saturday.

The Bath lock will lead England into battle against New Zealand at Eden Park knowing that history is stacked against them recording a famous victory.

Only two previous England captains have triumphed at the All Blacks’ expense on New Zealand soil – John Pullin (1973) and Martin Johnson (2003).

It is a tall order for Borthwick, especially as England have travelled without personnel like Danny Cipriani, Jonny Wilkinson, Paul Sackey, Phil Vickery, Simon Shaw and Lewis Moody.

But the 28-year-old Cumbrian has belief his squad can shape up against an All Blacks outfit playing for the first time since their World Cup demise last October.

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Borthwick said: “The players here have been playing in the highest level of our domestic competition, and I believe we are a very strong squad.

“We’ve got high-calibre players throughout the squad, and every one of them is eager for this opportunity.

“We know we are going to have to be at the very best of our game against the All Blacks in these two Tests in Auckland and Christchurch.

“I think the onus of the players is to get on and do the best we can and play to the very best of our ability.”

England continued their preparations by training at Takapuna Rugby Club today, a 20-minute journey from the Auckland waterfront hotel that has become a regular base on New Zealand trips.

Tour manager Rob Andrew plans to announce the first Test starting line-up next Tuesday.

And it could contain barely a handful of survivors from England’s last Test match – the 33-10 RBS 6 Nations victory over Ireland at Twickenham in mid-March.

As skipper, Borthwick is a certainty, but prop Andrew Sheridan, hooker Lee Mears and number eight Nick Easter might be the only other players retained.

In addition, new caps could be handed out to London Irish wing Topsy Ojo and Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care, while Gloucester centre Mike Tindall looks set for a first England appearance in six months.

Tindall suffered serious injuries during England’s Six Nations loss to Wales on February 2 and was admitted to the intensive care unit of a London hospital.

He made his domestic return during Gloucester’s Heineken Cup quarter-final loss to Munster in early April, and England will be grateful to welcome back his considerable midfield experience and expertise.

Whatever side Andrew and England’s coaching staff settle on though, the 2007 World Cup finalists will start as underdogs.

England have only beaten New Zealand six times in 29 attempts, with just two of those wins being away from home.

And England have failed to score a try during their last three Tests in New Zealand, a sequence that stretches back to 1998, when Matt Dawson touched down during a 40-10 defeat in Auckland during the so-called ‘tour from hell.’

Borthwick added: “I think there is always this evolution of players, and I think this squad here is picked on merit.

“Rob (Andrew), Martin Johnson (England manager) and everybody involved has set a great future up for English rugby, so it’s a really exciting time to be involved.

“To be down in New Zealand for these two Tests is particularly exciting. This is probably the biggest challenge you can have as a professional rugby player.

“It is not often that we get the opportunity to come down here and play in New Zealand.

“We were here in 2004 and 2003 and there has been a break since we were last here, so it’s an opportunity for every one of us to come down here and challenge ourselves against some of the very best in the world.”

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