Captain Steve Borthwick has outlined the values on which he will attempt to build another world-beating era for England - courage, ruthlessness and a driving ambition to be the best.
Borthwick knows England will need all three qualities in abundance if they are to begin that era with a first home defeat on New Zealand here tomorrow since Martin Johnson’s warriors triumphed in Wellington in 2003.
It was Johnson, England’s new team manager, who appointed Borthwick as captain of a new-look squad selected with the 2011 World Cup firmly in mind. The challenge over the course of four years is to replicate England’s all-conquering team from 2003 but the challenge this weekend is toopen that new era with a defining victory here.
“Martin Johnson asked me to captain because of what I do,” Borthwick said. “I try to be as professional as possible and influence others around me as positively as possible. It is a tremendous honour for me to be captain but you also need key leaders around you who fit in clearly with the values you want the team to be part of.
“First and foremost, when you come down here it is formidable and you have to have courage to take New Zealand on. We have got to be relentless in the way we approach the game because this New Zealand team will expose any mistake. And we have got to be ambitious in the way we try to play. We have to set our goals high.
“Challenges don’t come much bigger than this one and it is very clear that we will have to be at the best of our ability this weekend.”
Borthwick made his international captaincy debut in the Six Nations victory over Italy in Rome after Phil Vickery fell ill the night before the match. This time the plan is for it to become a long-term appointment and that poses different challenges for him.
“During the Six Nations I was involved in the senior player group and had a leadership role there,” he said. “There is a certain amount I need to step up. But the requirement of me is to prepare well and to play well. That is the first and foremost thing I have to do. Martin Johnson used to say his first requirement as captain was to play well.”
The constant theme emanating from the England camp has been the importance of treating the All Blacks like any other opponent, to forget the aura of the jersey and the haka. New Zealand are also in a state of transition as they attempt to navigate some choppy waters.
There is great public disaffection with the decision to re-appoint Graham Henry and his coaching staff following New Zealand’s worst World Cup performance. But that does not mean England will under-estimate the All Blacks. England have beaten New Zealand away twice in 45 years - in 1973 and 2003.
The All Blacks played with immense physicalness in monsoon conditions in beating Ireland last week and Borthwick expects them to be far more dangerous tomorrow. “They will be even better against us this weekend,” Borthwick said. “Having had that game and another week’s preparation together, I think they will be an even stronger outfit this weekend.”
New Zealand have made one change, with Greg Somerville returning at tight-head and charged with stopping Andrew Sheridan. The bulldozing England prop is the sole survivor of England’s World Cup final team from eight months ago and there are only four remaining from the win over Ireland in mid-March.
Not one of the England side that runs out tomorrow are over 30 and they lack Test experience in key areas. Winger Topsy Ojo makes his debut in a back three boasting only seven caps among them while Tom Rees, James Haskell and Luke Narraway form a dynamic but inexperienced loose-forward trio.
But Borthwick cannot think of a better way to launch a new era than against the All Blacks here, with the potential to create a slice of rugby history. “This is the best England has to offer and it is exciting to be part of that,” he said.