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FEATURE Is it about time we gave George Ford a bit of respect?

Is it about time we gave George Ford a bit of respect?
3 months ago

The Faz Show always had top billing and had a great run on the most of unforgiving of stages. The teak-tough Saracen gave so much to England down the years but for George Ford there has been a tangible sense of liberation at the curtain coming down. The spotlight is now squarely on him, and his role as a support act is over.

Owen Farrell may be one of his oldest friends, the guy he used to do his homework for after they had moved south from their gritty rugby league heartlands to the comfortable environs of Harpenden, but his decision to indefinitely take a step back from England has allowed Ford to thrive.

Farrell is such a dominant, forceful personality that it can be hard for anyone else to get a look in and without the overpowering bark of the big dog ringing in their ears. At 31, Ford has, at last, found his own voice.

As Ford addressed his teammates in the huddle on the field in Lyon on Saturday night after one of the best performances of his 96-cap career, it looked for all the world as if this was now his England team.

The Northern duo were a double act for so long – on the field sometimes, off the field always, as the twin tactical brains trust of the England squad – that the new dynamic must have felt strange for Ford in a way. Indeed, the uncoupling of an intellectual meeting of minds would have taken time to process.

Owen Farrell George Ford
Owen Farrell and George Ford have always shared an unshakeable bond (Photo by Alex Davidson – RFU/Getty Images)

But mind coach Don Macpherson, who has worked with Ford for the past ten years, explains that it has enabled the Sale stand-off to step out of the shadows, and enlighten his fellow team-mates.

“Finally he has been allowed to be George Ford,” said Macpherson. “England have seen the leadership qualities that I’ve known existed from listening to George for hours. It was glaringly obvious on Saturday how much more of a calming influence on the team George was with Farrell out of the way. It frustrates me that people still don’t rate him as he should be rated. There he is at 31 only getting his chance because Farrell isn’t there. You can say I am biased but I think Farrell is overrated where George is underrated.”

Macpherson has seen a multitude of athletes over his long career but he ranks Ford as among his most gifted. “I’m a massive fan because he’s a nice fella, he’s very intelligent and he is the most creative sportsperson I have ever worked with. I don’t say that lightly. I must have worked with over 500 of them over 35 years and he is the best mentally. The vision he has is remarkable.”

“The way that he glued that team together…he was exceptional. He was just the general picking his punches, reading the game – it was a beautiful performance.”

Jonny Wilkinson

By that he means not just the obvious like the artistic tip-on pass for Tommy Freeman’s second half try against France but the inner-workings of his ingenious rugby brain. He tunes it before big games like Saturday’s by visualising what he wants to happen in them through 20-minute recordings that he helps to script and which he plays to himself in quiet moments during the build-up. Voiced by Macpherson, they zone in on minutiae, like the feel of the ball in his hands and on his boot, sensory connections to rugby’s elemental parts before embarking on a dream journey through the match to come. The reality can never quite match the mental rehearsal but the France game was not far off. No wonder Jonny Wilkinson was purring in appreciation afterwards.

“The way that he glued that team together..he was exceptional. He was just the general picking his punches, reading the game – it was a beautiful performance,” said Wilkinson.

Ford will never be the defensive rock Wilkinson or Farrell were as England No 10s – nature did not make him that way – but he has worked tirelessly to keep on reinventing himself to become a stand-off for all seasons.

George Ford Marcus Smith
Ford will continue to be compared with Marcus Smith when it comes to England fly-half selection (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

The spiral bomb he specialises in was developed as heavy weaponry to fit in with the kick-first, think-later game plans favoured by Eddie Jones and until recently Steve Borthwick but that has never been his instinct.

“He doesn’t like the kicking game – it’s not what he wants to do,” said Macpherson.

As he showed against Ireland and France, he can paint some beautiful pictures. The proximity with which he played to the line in Lyon was reminiscent of the teenage starlet that first appeared on the English rugby scene, the wonder kid that made his Leicester debut at just 16.

He says he has felt like a different player for England over the past fortnight with the side’s new attacking outlook but maybe it is just a rediscovery of the instinctive playmaker he once was.

Perhaps he has been too much the company man down the years, following the drill dictated to him, but it appears now he has found the courage of his convictions to shape the England approach in a positive way.

While he was content to play structured rugby for Borthwick when Leicester won the Premiership title, England have attacking talent demanding to be unleashed and as vice-captain Ford has become one of their most erudite spokesmen.

I think what you have seen recently is George’s influence creeping into Borthwick’s thinking. There’s no doubt Borthwick listens to George far more than Eddie Jones did. He was in love with Farrell and that was the end of that.

Don Macpherson, mind coach to Ford

“I think what you have seen recently is George’s influence creeping into Borthwick’s thinking,” said Macpherson.  “There’s no doubt Borthwick listens to George far more than Eddie Jones did. He was in love with Farrell and that was the end of that.”

Jones, like Stuart Lancaster before him, recognised Ford’s skillset and went through phases of picking him and Farrell as a midfield pair when one of them had to go everyone knew who would be expendable. He dropped Ford from the squad entirely for the 2021 autumn internationals.

George Ford
Eddie Jones would seek Ford for counsel but discard him when Owen Farrell was available (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

“Eddie Jones used to ask for George’s help to pick teammates up who were feeling a bit mentally frail – he was almost a mind coach to them and George got worried about that because he felt it distracted him from his own game. He went through an iffy patch and lost his place,” explained Macpherson. “He felt he couldn’t concentrate on his own game because Eddie was asking him to do too much.” He wasn’t away for long.

England were mightily thankful for that after he sank Argentina with three drop goals at the World Cup before Farrell returned from suspension to displace him. Even with Farrell gone, Marcus Smith’s talents mean the debate over who should conduct the England orchestra will not go away but it is highly unlikely now that Borthwick will look anywhere else for the epic Tests this summer in New Zealand, as they face the All Blacks for the first time in a decade on their own patch.

With the England straitjacket unbuttoned and the microphone his own, this could be the period when we finally get to see Ford in full flower. The quiet man has finally come to the fore.


Anthony 114 days ago

As ever , everyone gets carried away with ENGLAND best team in the world after one ruddy game ! Ford best 10 and Lions nailed on . England have been poor, poor poor for quite a while now. Unless the forwards are on top and on front foot Ford is non existant. Have you all forgotten Leicester were going to be relegated with half the England back line in the team. While Farrell ( at 10 ) and co were winning everything . Where was Fords leadership then .Over a whole season
How many times have Harlequins been behind and Smith /Dombrant have produced magic and won games . Yes Ford is one mighty fine player , but its not a given he can turn games round consistently to win .
He had a cracker of a game v Ireland . Lets see if this can be repeated more often . It would be terrible for the Prem if Smith becomes disillusioned by being ignored and takes the money in France .
Yes , Finn cannot express his disagreement without insults.
Time will tell if Borthwick is making a mistake not letting the youngster Smiths have a go and putting Ford out to grass. Look at Crowley for Ireland .

Kenward K. 114 days ago


john 114 days ago

George is a great player like most 10s needs his forwards to be winning collisions and set pieces ,not many players better than George St putting players into space sure the England backs would agree.

Chris 115 days ago

Another factor in this is the world cup in 2026.Ford will be 35… too old? He doesn't have the turn of speed now to break gain lines and is easy to defend against,he doesn't keep defences guessing.

Steve Borthwick said after Marcus Smiths injury that he had pencilled him in at No1, so let's see if that is actually true.

However that is not my main concern. England's policy of not picking someone who doesn't play in the Premiership means the Smiths will have to sit and wait for their chance when they could be in France earning a lot more money. If the signal is you are going to have to wait another 3 years then why would they stay in England?

Stephen 115 days ago

Ford retiring would improve England’s chances to win more. He’s a dated player with poor decision making and lacks any real flare. Good riddance to him.

Tom 115 days ago

George Ford has always been an excellent player withx a very complete game. Back in his days playing for Bath with Kyle Eastmond he was exceptional. He's not been able to express himself for England until now due to a combination of coaches and Farrell.

mjp89 115 days ago

Breaking: 96-cap fly-half who has been England's first-choice 10 for the majority of the past decade, including their most successful period from 2016-19, who is so highly rated that one of the world's best 10s was consistently played at inside centre to accommodate him, is only just now getting his chance at age 31.

If he wasn't getting a chance before what the hell was he getting???

Neale 115 days ago

Ford has always been a class act, his problem is that he’s been yoked to Farrell and negative kicking tactics by successive coaches. Hopefully Borthwick has now seen the light and Ford and the two Smiths will be allowed to fight it out and flourish.

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