For a 19-year-old dubbed the world’s best young rugby player, England fly-half in waiting George Ford has his feet firmly on the turf.
While romantics hanker over the prospect of Ford kicking England to victory next Spring, George himself prefers not to get carried away. It would be easy to fantasize over a starring grand slam role, or even a summer trip down under, but Ford claims that his main target is to secure his place in the Leicester Tigers XV.
“I want to push for my place in the Leicester Team. I’m going do everything I can to become as good a player as I can. Hopefully I’ll push Toby [Flood] and if I get a shot I’ll take it and hopefully get some games under my belt.”
Some of this constraint will no doubt be the result of a calculated approach from the Leicester Tigers management. Richard Cockerill and his team took hold of Ford’s talent several seasons ago and they have yet to fully release the reins. Through his limited senior opportunities Ford has already shown signs of his worth. Starring roles in the LV=Cup and Premiership play-offs have demonstrated Ford’s big game ability, but he is fully aware that there will be no shoo-ins for the number 10 shirt.
“Everyone wants to start but you’ve got to be patient and earn your stripes. When the opportunity comes, whether it’s through form or injury, you’ve just got to be ready to go out there and perform.”
Leicester recently held Ford back from the Under-20 World Cup in order to bulk him up for the rigours of the adult game, all in the interest of preening their fledgling play-maker. Ford has been happy to go along with the Tigers policy, demonstrating a willingness to bide his time rather than venting eager frustrations at a lack of game time.
“I love playing for the Under-20s but I thought it was the right decision for me to stay and do what I’ve done.
“Leicester have got a great reputation of bringing young guys through so I think it was sensible to keep me back this summer to try and put a bit of size and weight on. It’s better to be thrown in at the right time instead of going in too early and getting found out.”
Special treatment, a watchful yet expectant eye and the accolade of IRB Junior Player of the Year equate to more pressure than experienced by most up-and-coming youngsters. For Ford however, his constraint and ability to deter the pressure once again come to the fore as he takes it in his stride.
“I don’t think it [the IRB Junior Player of the Year award] really added any pressure. I was part of a great Under 20s team and the lads were awesome. I think it was down to the team more than any individual performances but you’ve just got to forget about it really and crack on.”
Whether Ford will play for the Under 20s next summer remains another question, but for now all eyes are on the upcoming Premiership campaign. Following the summer departures of Agulla, Tuilagi and Twelvetrees, Leicester now have a new look back line which could well see Ford pulling the strings.
“The new signings have looked really good in pre-season so hopefully we’ll have a great back line this year. I cant wait now, one more week to go, it’s been a long pre-season but we’re nearly back into it.”
Ford is likely to remain the apprentice for now, as Leicester opt for the experience of Toby Flood, but as the season progresses both Cockerill and Lancaster will be face some difficult decisions.
By Nik Simon