Steve Borthwick says he will be using the Rugby World Cup’s Bronze Final as another opportunity for his players to experience playing in a big match, focussing on positivity after Saturday’s gut-wrenching semi-final defeat by South Africa.
England were minutes away from reaching the final before a late try and penalty earned the Springboks a 16-15 victory, meaning England return to the Stade de France to face Argentina in the third-place playoff on Friday.
“I think this game is important, there are many reasons that I want players playing the game,” Borthwick said. “We have more players 25 and under than any other team in the semi-finals and we have some very good young players who will benefit from the experience. I want them playing in big games at World Cups.”
Borthwick said that Marcus Smith should be available having missed the semi-final due to head injury, but played his usual straight bat when asked if he planned to give some game time to others in the squad who have not been involved much.
Speaking 12 hours after returning to his hotel on Sunday, the detail-obsessed Borthwick said he had already studied Saturday’s game “a couple of times”.
“The players poured their heart and soul into it but we have to credit South Africa for finding a way to get a result after being behind on the scoreboard,” he said.
“Painful as the experience was, we will learn from it. Over the next day we will really reflect and recover and then we’ll come together and start our preparation to play Argentina. And then we’ll aim to finish the tournament the manner we wish to.”
Borthwick also said that he had been reading an article focusing on how to find growth from adversity and that he was confident the England team would do just that.
“I think you’ve seen growth in this tournament, it hasn’t always been linear, hasn’t always been a step forward,” he said. “I want to make sure we take more growth this week. I know that we’ll get stronger from it.”
Borthwick, as usual, refused to be drawn into criticism of any of the key decisions that went against his team, notably the final scrum penalty that allowed Handre Pollard to kick the winning points. “I thought Ben O’Keeffe refereed well yesterday and his team did a good job,” he said.
He also declined to comment on footage that showed England flanker Tom Curry claiming to the referee that he had been verbally abused by South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi. A South African spokesman said they had no knowledge of the incident.