George Ford, England’s only ever recipient of the IRB’s Young Player of the Year award following some outstanding performances for the England U20s in 2011, is understandably enjoying being involved with the Elite England squad. The young Bath fly half, who impressively made his England U18 debut at the age of 15, was ever so close to a first full cap last weekend, travelling as potential injury cover for the opening Six Nations loss to France.
“It was a good experience – obviously great to be at the Stade de France and see how the boys prepare for a proper test match.”
Despite questions over the impact of certain personnel from England’s bench in Paris, this weekend Ford will not travel with the squad to Scotland. Lancaster has named an unchanged match day squad but Ford, together with club mate Anthony Watson who also travelled as injury cover to Paris, have been released back to Bath and will be available for the Round 13 Premiership ties this weekend.
Ford, however, is adamant that if he keeps playing well for his club he will be rewarded with England caps.
“I’m in a position where all I can do is train and play well and try and get that opportunity. Stuart has been good to his ways in the past. If you’re playing and training well you’ll get a shot.”
Ford, 20, moved from Leicester Tigers to Bath Rugby last summer, joining his father Mike who is head coach at the West Country outfit. During his time in the Midlands he won the LV Cup and also played in two consecutive Premiership finals, including last year’s win over Northampton Saints, coming on midway through the first half as an injury replacement for Toby Flood.
It was, however, Richard Cockerill’s decision to favour the more experienced Flood, capped 60 times by England, in the last two seasons that restricted Ford’s opportunities in the Premiership and in important Heineken Cup games. This ultimately led to Ford deciding that his future lay away from Welford Road.
With one eye on securing a place in England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup squad, the early signs are that Ford has made a sensible career move. He has had a superb season, helping his new side to third place in the Premiership, two places above Leicester, and he was also named as the Aviva Premiership Player of the Month for November. But is he surprised at being picked for England whilst only in his first season at Bath?
“Yes I suppose I am. I’ve only played half a season at Bath but I think the run of games I’ve had in the Premiership, the LV and the Amlin has been brilliant for me. Just to have a game week after week, learning things all the time.”
Appearing as the youngest participant at the 2011 IRB Junior World Cup in Italy, Ford formed an excellent partnership with Owen Farrell, with the ex Tiger playing fly half and the Saracens star slotting in at inside centre. Six months later Farrell was named in Stuart Lancaster’s first England squad, in January 2012, and in the last twelve months the Wigan born star has made the England number 10 shirt his own.
Ford, born in Oldham, faces a difficult task to oust Farrell, who served as back up to Johnny Sexton for the victorious Lions test series in Australia last summer, but he is pleased to be back in an England squad with a player he used to play rugby league against in the north west of England ten years ago. He was full of praise for his friend after last Saturday’s display.
“It’s been great being in camp with Owen. We’ve been talking a lot, analysing the opposition. At the weekend I thought he was brilliant – the way he threatened the line, the way he managed the game, his kicking game. His goal kicking was world class as it always is. It was a great performance.”
England started poorly on Saturday, conceding two early tries for the second straight match. Is the side’s defence a worry at the moment?
“I don’t think it’s a concern. The defence in general on Saturday was very good. The line speed was great and the amount of errors we forced from the French team was high. We’ve obviously spoken about starting games a bit better and not giving teams a head start. But the boys have put in a massive shift in defence recently. “
Ford may only be 20 years old but he has already achieved a great deal at junior international and top level club rugby. He has a wise old head strapped between two young shoulders and when he is handed the number ten jersey, England fans will be excited, not nervous, at the prospect of seeing him pulling the strings for the national side on rugby’s biggest stage.
Get the latest behind-the-scenes news from George Ford and his England teammates with O2 Inside Line, the weekly show from O2 – proud sponsor of England Rugby – and the RFU, at www.O2InsideLine.com
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images