| 8.9°C Belfast

McCall blasts Borthwick criticisms


Saracens and former England captain Steve Borthwick

Saracens and former England captain Steve Borthwick

Saracens and former England captain Steve Borthwick

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall has criticised the "damaging" treatment of Steve Borthwick as England captain, declaring he was made the scapegoat for a failed regime.

Borthwick will set a new Aviva Premiership appearance record of 263 in Sunday's clash with Northampton, stirred by a passionate defence from McCall.

The 34-year-old lock, who retires at the end of the season, led England during a troubled period.

Initially appointed captain by Brian Ashton during the 2008 RBS 6 Nations, he was at the helm for the disastrous tour to New Zealand that summer and retained as captain by incoming manager Martin Johnson.

A knee injury struck in 2010 and Borthwick was never seen in an England jersey again, ingloriously ending a 57-cap international career amid claims he had taken the fall for the team's lack of success.

His leadership and Test credentials had been repeatedly questioned and occasionally ridiculed throughout his captaincy.

"Steve has had a rough ride. He took unbelievably unwarranted criticism during his England days," McCall said.

"He carried the can for an underperforming organisation, which is not fair.

"Steve's reputation was tainted to a very unfair degree. He hasn't talked to me about this, this is my opinion.

"He deserves far, far better than that because he's the best person you can have at a rugby club. A good bloke, a good leader and model professional.

"Why he has the reputation he has is beyond me. If you get that much public criticism, it's going to cause some damage. It has to.

"To have continued on at club level in the way he has and to have led the team the way he has speaks volumes for him."

Borthwick could mark his 15th and final season by leading Saracens to a Premiership and Heineken Cup double with semi-finals in both competitions looming.

"We've all had captains who were great leaders by example, or who could press the right buttons and motivate people, or who were very good strategically and could change things around," McCall said.

"But Steve is all of those things and that's unbelievably rare. He's probably the first captain in my experience who has everything and can do all of those jobs.

"He'll leave a big hole in our organisation when he leaves."

Borthwick will eclipse the mark set by Leicester's George Chuter when Northampton visit Allianz Park in a battle between the Premiership's top two clubs.

McCall admires Chuter's longevity, but insists Borthwick is worthy of greater admiration.

"It's remarkable for a second row. If you look at his minutes compared to Chuter's, there's a big difference because Chuter was on the bench a lot," McCall said.

"George Chuter's achievement was a good achievement, but Steve's is phenomenal given he started almost every one of those matches.

"Steve has been incredible for us this season and incredible for the last five seasons.

"These are his last five or six games of rugby and fingers crossed we can send him off on the right note."