Ford finally fulfilling potential

Anyone lucky enough to have been enjoying their Saturday afternoon at the Rec last weekend would have seen a dazzling 60m solo try (let’s not get into the grounding…) from one of English rugby’s great young prospects. The prospect in question is George Ford, who has enjoyed a stellar start to the season after his summer move to Bath from the Tigers.

For signs of how talented he is, you do not have to look very far. At age 15 he made his debut for the England U18 side, and continued to play for, and captain, them for a couple of years.

At the tender age of 17, he was promoted to the U20 side, for whom he was capped 11 times, scoring 143 points in the process. He made his debut in the 2011 U20 Six Nations, and ended up playing every game, winning the man of the match award in three of England’s five victories, on their way to a Grand Slam.

In the World Cup later that year, he was the youngest player on show and yet still remained first choice fly-half for England, leading them to a second place finish. And then, later that year, he became the first English player to win the IRB Junior Player of the Year award – at the age of just 18 – beating off the competition of New Zealand’s Sam Cane (followers of the Southern Hemisphere game will know just how well he is doing now) and Luke Whitelock.

It is easy to forget that Ford is actually still eligible for the U20 national side, despite not having featured for them for over a year now after having been fast-tracked into the Egland Saxons set-up.

Despite this meteoric rise, there is the slightest sense that his career has stalled a little. When he burst onto the scene in the 2011/2012 season for the Tigers, we saw a brilliant, but composed, young player. Last season, however, things began to fall apart a bit.

Having eschewed the chance to play at the 2012 Junior World Championships in favour of getting a full pre-season in (the logic being ‘who knows when he might get the chance to have one of them again?’), he started the season with a renewed fitness – and, crucially, added bulk. While this was undoubtedly necessary, it did not seem to sit that well with him. It seemed to have affected his kicking game, as balls were skewed and scuffed off the tee, and as a result frustration crept into his game.

This frustration was compounded by the equally-rapid rise of Owen Farrell, who was starting week in week out at Saracens and was duly rewarded with a full England cap – of which he now has plenty, and a Lions tour to boot. Ford is only 18 months Farrell’s junior, and having player age-group rugby together it would have annoying to say the least for Ford to see his former contemporary now playing on such a greater stage while he could still not get a regular club start.

Ford’s frustrations at playing second fiddle to Toby Flood began to boil over, and there were murmurings in the press that he was unhappy and angling for a move. With his contract up at the end of the season, it did not take long for him to announce his move to Bath, where dad Mike is head coach.

Tigers fans were disgruntled that a player the club had nurtured was turning his back on them, but in reality, what choice did Ford have? Warming the bench for Flood and playing 15 minutes every week was not progressing his development as it should have done, and his frustration and eventual angling for a move is, with a touch of hindsight, completely understandable.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. When his move to Bath was announced in the middle of last season many pundits speculated whether he would actually get the starting berth he desired, with Tom Heathcote showing good form (and, ironically, completely outplaying him in a Scotland A v England Saxons game) and the signing of Gavin Henson.

It is clear now, however, that Ford has been backed as their number one fly-half, and that faith is already being repaid by the bucketload. He has 45 points from three starts and has led his team to victory in each of those games. The highlight of the season came last weekend when he scored the aforementioned dazzling try, showcasing quick feet, awareness of the space and no little pace to dash to the line for a superb score.

fordHis passing has been slick, and his vision is second-to-none – witness the quick line-out for Guy Mercer’s first try in that same game. One botched conversion aside, the kicking demons that so plagued him last year seem to have been banished as well.

So, is an England call-up on the cards? It is too soon for that. We are only four games into the new season – Ford has to prove that he can boss this backline throughout the year, and must achieve a consistency with the boot that the likes of Flood and Farrell do every year. There was an impressive marshalling performance against Newcastle in the wind and rain, but how will he fare in the cauldron-like atmosphere of a West Country derby, or in front of the oppressive Welford Road crowd (now not in a Tigers jersey, obviously)?

If he can answer these questions satisfactorily during this season then do not be surprised to see him feature on next summer’s England tour – or maybe even in the Six Nations. There is no space to go into his contenders here, but if he continues to mature (again – he is still only 20) at such a rate, he has the potential to eclipse them all.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

13 thoughts on “Ford finally fulfilling potential

  1. Nice Hosie – like it. Was worried at start of season.. with hindsight, there really wasn’t any need to be.

  2. I was actually half-waiting for a post of Ford to come out! I didn’t have to wait long.

    Very talented player. Farrell has started the season in fantastic form though (which appears to have gone slightly unnoticed) so Ford will have to do a lot to change that. I think realistically for him the aim of a bench spot come 6 Nations time is not out of the question. It all depends on form – remembering that Burns has not even been mentioned in this article, England suddenly have a load of options at 10.

    Right now I would have Farrell; Burns; Flood; then Ford in rank for the England number 10 shirt – but that could change a lot if Fords form continues in this way.

  3. Excellent read Jamie! Young man who oozes potential and his move to Bath with his father and Gary Gold there, has thus far proved to be correct for him

  4. Up until a year ago, I would have had Farrell starting with Flood on the bench.

    These days, I would select Burns first with Ford on the bench. I say this purely because there is suddenly an array of exciting England back line players fighting for places. For me, Burns is the man to give them the space and the ball to play with.

  5. He certainly has had the dream start to the season, as have Bath.
    However lets not get carried away saying that he is ready for England as he has been playing behind what is an excellent and dominant Bath pack which is giving him a lot of time and space on the ball. That is not to take anything away from some great performances and it is fantastic to see another English 10 that looks to play what is in front of him not just sticking to a game plan.

    I think he needs this season and run in the Saxons just to learn how to cope when things are not going well etc. but my prediction is that come 2015 he will fighting for the 10 start with Burns and Farrell will be covering 10 / 12 and Flood 3rd choice 10.

    In summary a BIG prospect but not there yet, fingers crossed he keeps it going! (ps that is coming from a Glos fan)

  6. The good news is that Farrell, Burns and Ford are going to be options for England for some time to come. Can see Flood heading off to France now and Cockers being left without a fh!

    1. We’ve got Owen Williams, Staggy, so I’m not too concerned! Although he certainly falls more into the raw potential bracket at the moment, I would say.

      1. Oh OK – someone that I know absolutely nothing about. Interestingly do you think Cockers will play a raw fh if Flood did leave or would he pay to bring someone in. My, albeit rather limited knowledge of the man, indicates the latter on the basis of instant results rather than longer term planning. Am I being unfair?

        1. If Flood left it would free-up a huge chunk of the budget, so he would almost certainly bring someone in I would have thought. I don’t think that’s a slight on Cockers either – just good sense. That said, let’s see how Williams goes this season! Certainly a prospect I’m hugely excited about.

  7. Think it’s a bit harsh to say he’s ‘finally fulfilling his potential’ – as you point out he’s only 20!

    As a Bath STH I thought he’d have a battle on his hands to dislodge Heathcote, however it hasn’t turned out to be much of a competition.

    Haven’t been this excited about a Bath squad for some time and Ford is one of the main reasons for that. Trouble is; if we (Bath) champion his international cause too much we lose out because he’ll be away with England all of the time!

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