Tigers 1880

March 3, 2022

Borthwick’s evolving selection policy

Leicester Tigers face Saracens, away at the StoneX stadium, this Saturday. It will be interesting, as always, to see what team Steve Borthwick, the Tigers head coach, goes for. 

When the teams faced each other at Mattioli Woods Welford Road back in October, Tigers came away with the points thanks to a last minute penalty try, subsequent to the officials missing a dangerous clear out by Tigers centre, Dan Kelly.

It was a close encounter that, just this week, Borthwick conceded Saracens had the better of for 79 minutes. It was a grim, wet, autumnal afternoon that had Tigers clinging on for dear life. A pretty affair it was not. But if nothing else, the character and grit of this Leicester side was in full bloom.

To say it was an odd team selection though by Borthwick would be an understatement. Freddie Steward, Ellis Genge, and Harry Wells all started on the bench. The conditions made Steward’s non-start particularly strange.

When I saw the selection ahead of the match, it reminded me of Borthwick’s selection approach throughout much of the 2020/21 season. As an outside observer, it seemed like he picked his strongest sides for the games against lower table teams and made changes when playing the top sides—especially when away from home. 

For a team trying to regain confidence after a dire few years, this approach made lots of sense. Maximise the chance of winning the games you are more likely to have a shot at winning, minimise the impact on confidence when losing to the top sides. Few teams were ever able to say they took down Tigers’ first-choice team. 

It’s hard to argue with the approach that, clearly, has laid the foundations for Tigers’ success this season. But what about now? Whatever team Tigers put out, they end up winning! And though a Borthwick side is always impossible to totally second guess, he hasn’t tinkered with the side nearly as much this time around. 

With every team selection, it’s easy enough to understand the reasoning—apart from when Sarries came to town. Which begs the question, what team will he announce for the return fixture? Does he guard against any heavy confidence knock if Tigers lose by having the fall-back of, ‘it wasn’t our first-choice team’, or does he name the best possible side and say, ‘Let’s go and take them on in their own patch’?

For me, I hope it’s the latter. Though neither side can be at full strength due to missing internationals, Borthwick should pick his best side, based on availability, and see how they do. As hard a game as it is inevitably going to be, I wouldn’t put it past Tigers coming away with yet another win. 

Thanks for reading,

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@tigers_1880 | @samradford