Dan Cole spent three of the last four years thinking his international career was over.
Cole was pressed into 77 minutes’ service when Kyle Sinckler was knocked out just moments after kick-off against South Africa four years ago.
The Springboks battered England 32-12 and a creaking Cole could not contain South Africa’s two sets of peerless front-row forwards at the scrum.
Cole returned to Leicester to regroup and was then joined by England forwards coach Steve Borthwick at Welford Road.
Borthwick reinvigorated Leicester, handed Cole a new lease of life and drove the Tigers to the 2022 Gallagher Premiership title.
When Borthwick took the England helm in December, he quickly set about drafting Cole back in from the cold, and now the 36-year-old finds himself preparing to take on Argentina in Marseille this weekend.
“For the past three of those four years I didn’t think it would happen,” said Cole. “But now I’m here, and I’m very happy and grateful to be part of it.
“Yes, since 2019 I didn’t think I’d be involved. But before the Six Nations, Steve gave me a call and again, in the summer, said he’d like me to be a part of it and I obviously jumped at the chance. And that’s why I’m here.
“It was a surprise to receive that call. I worked with Steve at Leicester but he didn’t give anything away.
“And yeah, I didn’t think I would be back, obviously purely because I hadn’t played for three years. But he saw differently, and I’m grateful he did.”
Borthwick turned Leicester upside down on joining a faded East Midlands powerhouse after the 2019 World Cup.
The former England captain revamped the entire squad, but placed total faith in players such as Cole to lead the charge. When Leicester toppled Saracens in the 2022 Premiership final, Welford Road was rebuilt — and Cole, too.
Asked if Borthwick’s influence at Leicester handed him a fresh start and a new stage to his career, Cole said: “I think in some regards probably yeah, after 2019, the final, what happened, I wouldn’t say it would be easy to pack it in, but it would have been easy I think just to drift.
“But then obviously Steve came to Leicester, Covid and everything else happened, so you had to reassess what had happened previously in your life. And he came in with a purpose and a task.
“For several us when we were there, he gave us a purpose and a vision to buy into. Leicester had had a tough few years, and he had a vision to get us back to where Leicester, a club of its size could be, and we did. So it was an easy thing to buy into and get on with.”