Ford’s exclusion from England’s squad is a sign of his value

One of the most agonising trends in British sport is the suffocation of fledgling talent. Rather than embrace and nurture our most promising youth, a claustrophobic media circus so often stifles development, reducing the subject to the status of shooting star or could-have-been. For that very reason, everyone connected with English rugby should count their lucky stars that George Ford plays for Leicester Tigers.

On Saturday evening in the East Midlands sunshine, Ford made another irresistible statement of his immense promise. The reigning IRB World Young Player of the year – the only man from this country to ever win that award – put in a superb showing to guide Richard Cockerill’s side past Saracens and into an eighth successive top-flight final.

For a 19 year-old to survive the ferocious physicality of the tie was impressive in itself – there were some fearful collisions, as you would expect with bruisers like Manu Tuilagi and Mouritz Both flying high on adrenaline. That Ford directed the pace of Leicester’s attacks, while also retaining enough composure to kick 14 vital points amid a truly harum-scarum atmosphere, defined his class.

The first ten minutes of the second period provided enough evidence for the highest plaudits. Moments after slicing a relatively straightforward kick at goal – something that would have been debilitating for those with less mettle – Ford scooped a wayward pass from Ben Youngs off his bootlaces, out-muscled Charlie Hodgson and accelerated thirty metres up field. The break led to a try in the left-hand corner for irrepressible Tongan Steve Mafi, the pivotal score of the match.

It is worth noting that all of this was achieved despite the fact that Ford was only told an hour before kick-off that Toby Flood was unfit and he would be starting. He has some bottle.

At the final whistle, Tigers’ latest hero was staggeringly modest and unassuming. He paid tribute to Youngs for easing what would otherwise have been a nervous week in the lead-up to the game. Then came the important bit, as Ford explained, “This is just a great team to be a part of.” He is also pretty astute.

Son of Mike, the granite-hard defence guru charged with reinvigorating Bath next season, raised in league land up North, Ford will not need to be warded from complacency or arrogance at any point. Even if he did, he has a perfect setting to keep him on the straight and narrow. Egos simply do not survive at Welford Road.

In fact, regardless of his exploits, Ford may not even survive a selectors’ meeting to feature in the final against Harlequins. As Cockerill bluntly outlined in the aftermath of his charges’ 24-15 triumph, “Floody is our first-choice fly-half.” Pending recovery from an ankle injury then, the elder statesman will be trusted at Twickenham.

That is not to say Ford is not hugely appreciated at Leicester. A safer option for the weekend would have been to deploy dependable Billy Twelvetrees in the half-back hotseat. However, Matt O’Connor is clearly a fantastic man-manager with admirable faith in the mantra that if one is good enough, one is old enough also.

In past weeks, though, the young stand-off’s worth has truly emerged. While terrorising his peers in this autumn’s Under 20 Six Nations, it had appeared that Ford would spend the ‘off-season’ in South Africa attempting to avenge England’s painfully close loss to New Zealand in last year’s Junior World Cup final. Then, when Rob Hunter’s squad was announced at the start of this month, one name was noticeably absent.

Whispers suggesting that Ford was in line for a senior tour under Stuart Lancaster began to float around press boxes, and why not? Owen Farrell, an equally unflappable contemporary, has taken to the international arena brilliantly. By Ford’s age, Australian James O’Connor was the proud owner of a Wallaby Test cap. Both Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper were at least Super Rugby regulars. Needless to say, Leicester is a long way from the Antipodes.

Barring a string of injuries, Ford will be nowhere near an England shirt this summer. Instead, he will run himself ragged in the East Midlands with weights, tyres, speed-sleds and masochistic fitness coaches for company. Believe me, at times he will wish he had 80 minutes of tackling Pierre Spies to look forward to but ironically, being spared a trip to the opposite hemisphere is actually a mark of Ford’s value to club and country. Both camps know just how influential he may be in the future.

Tigers are keen to keep him in sight because besides anything else, it is possible that this will be the only full pre-season he is afforded for the rest of his playing career. Certainly, when 2015 rolls around, he will be very busy.

by Charlie Morgan

4 thoughts on “Ford’s exclusion from England’s squad is a sign of his value

  1. I have to say (as a Sarries fan) I am really impressed with Ford. He has the aggression going forward and in defence that some fly halves lack. He needs to bulk up a little, but it sounds as though that is the plan for the summer. Farrell also has this aggression, but lacks the break line speed of Ford. I would definitely pick him instead of Flood. Flood’s tackling, for a big fly half, lacks the bite that Farrell and Ford seem to have.
    If he can bulk up, stay fit and get regular game time for Leicester, I could easily see him starring for England in next year’s Six Nations.

  2. Ford was fantastic and this is a good article, but I’d bet money that this bit isn’t true:

    “It is worth noting that all of this was achieved despite the fact that Ford was only told an hour before kick-off that Toby Flood was unfit and he would be starting. He has some bottle.”

  3. It would be facetious to state that “Ford is fortunate that he does not have blond hair” au Tait and a host of other young ‘world beaters’ historically eulogised in the English Press and the forgotten by an ever demanding public! He appears , like Farrell, potentially an excellent prospect if permitted to develop within the Premier fold. The crunch is when asked to perform without the comfort of their surroundings! Farrell, just about survived internationally last year and will be a better player for it; but without the (earned) acclaim for goalkicking, was he anything more than a player with promise, who survived?
    Fortunately, both have fathers steeped in rugby and common-sense; as so often, especially, in England, potential is exaggerated and achievements , internationally speaking, ordinary. But, face it ! they have had only a handful of games.
    Flood himself in an extended (probably overextended) stay, has never replicated Tiger’s form in an international shirt; Wilkinson is playing better in Toulon, than he ever did in England (and appears relatively injury free!). The English International setup either stifles talent or promotes ordinariness along/inside it, to have a similar effect! I suspect Lancaster has a grasp of what is required. I hope so, as the Lions need a quality English International side

Comments are closed.