Interview: Bath fly-half George Ford hoping successful switch from Leicester will put him in contention for an England place
George Ford, the Bath fly-half, says his game is in a “good place” should the call come to play a role in England’s Six Nations campaign this season.
Ford is widely-considered among the leading candidates for promotion to England’s elite player squad should head coach Stuart Lancaster opt to rethink his fly-half selection in the wake of Toby Flood’s decision to leave Leicester at the end of the season and move to France.
It was Ford’s frustration at his inability to break into the Leicester side ahead of Flood last season that prompted his move to Bath, where he has flourished this term since nailing down a regular starting place in September.
The 20 year-old was recently named the Aviva Premiership Player for November, having scored 11 points in each of Bath’s victories at Worcester Warriors and Wasps as well as kicking all of his side’s points in a 21-16 win over Exeter Chiefs.
“The last time I spoke to Stuart (Lancaster) was in the summer,” said Ford. “He just said I needed to go away and play games and push myself.
“That is all I have tried to do and make sure that I play as best as I can, week-in, week-out. It has been good because the forwards here have been brilliant and that makes the halfbacks’s life much easier."
Asked if he felt he was ready should he receive a call-up for the Six Nations, Ford added: "I feel I am in a good place but like anything you never stop learning. There are obviously parts of my game that are going all right this season and other parts where you can always improve.
“In terms of where I am, I think it is all right because I have played a run of games so I feel in a pretty good place.”
His performances during Bath’s impressive run of eight wins from 10 rounds of the Premiership have earned rave reviews from former England players such as Stuart Barnes and Austin Healey.
He not only offers an accurate kicking game but has demonstrated a vision and ability to bring the best out of Bath’s backline, an all-court package that is likely to put England incumbent Owen Farrell under pressure in the run-up to the 2015 World Cup.
"Over the past few months George Ford has ticked all the boxes required to become the England No 10," said Healey recently.
"He has developed his game in terms of stability, goal kicking and territorial control, while maintaining a unique ability to take the ball to the line. With England's forwards starting to dominate George could fit perfectly into the 10 shirt for the Six Nations.”
Two years on from when he was named the International Rugby Board’s Junior Player of the Year, Ford now faces arguably two of the biggest games of his career, against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday followed by a trip to his former club on Jan 5.
While both games are likely to be significant staging posts in Bath’s impressive push to be title contenders, they will also offer Ford the perfect platform to underscore his credentials for elevation in Lancaster’s Six Nations squad.
Ford however is quick to play down the significance of his first return to Welford Road – and a possible head-to-head with Flood – since opting the leave the club who handed him his senior debut at the age of just 16 in 2009.
Ford made 41 senior appearances for Leicester including 26 in the Premiership, scoring 275 points, and honours included winning the Premier A League title twice.
“I don’t think at all it will be about me going back to Leicester,” Ford added. “It will be about two big clubs who have got a lot of history of playing against each other. They are normally pretty good games when Bath and Leicester play against each other.
“It is at Welford Road this time and they will be wanting to put right what happened at The Rec earlier in the season so it is going to be a massive game for us.”
Interestingly Ford hails Flood as one of the key influences on his career, even though he ultimately felt he had to leave Leicester to take his game to the next level.
“It is pretty hard to look passed my time at Leicester and people like Toby Flood and Geordan Murphy who had a wealth of experience and played international rugby. To be with them day in, day out, you pick up stuff and learn from them, which was brilliant.
“Toby is a great player and when I was at the club he helped me massively so I have got loads of respect for him. Whatever he does I am sure he will go on to do well.”
Working under his father Mike, the head coach at Bath and former England defence coach, has proven to be a fruitful relationship for Ford, similar to the remarkable progress made by Farrell under his father Andy at first Saracens and now England.
“I have been totally fine with it,” Ford added. “I did it a little bit in the past when I was on loan (from Leicester) at Leeds. I just expect to be treated like any other player and I think that has been the way it has been and it has been pretty good.
“I have been trying to focus on the consistency of my performance, playing well every week. I have got my instincts back, which you obviously lose when you are not playing. Just the ability to play week in week out and make good decisions. That is what flyhalves need, to play week in week out, so when decisions come in the heat of the moment you make the best one.
“The main reason was to come to Bath was to give me the best opportunity to get game time and thankfully up to now it has turned out pretty well.”