sport

Saracens chief backs Borthwick

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall says Steve Borthwick was made a scapegoat for England's failures during his time as captain.

The 34-year-old lock, who will set a new Aviva Premiership appearance record by playing his 263rd game in Sunday's clash with Northampton, won 57 international caps between 2001 and 2010.

He was initially appointed captain by Brian Ashton during the 2008 Six Nations and retained the role for the disastrous tour of New Zealand the following summer.

He continued as skipper under Martin Johnson until he suffered a knee injury in 2010 and was never selected again.

And McCall believes he was singled out for unfair treatment.

"Steve has had a rough ride. He took unbelievably unwarranted criticism during his England days," said McCall. "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 will retire from rugby at the end of this season, which he could see him lead 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," said McCall.

"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."