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FEATURE Mick Cleary: 'George Ford has to stay as the starting No 10. It is as straightforward as that.'

Mick Cleary: 'George Ford has to stay as the starting No 10. It is as straightforward as that.'
9 months ago

England fans, beware the dangers of one wallow making a summer. The basking in victory is, of course, entirely natural and even desirable given the miseries that preceded it, all that doom and angst and lack of joy across those warm-up matches. After this, to bastardise Humphrey Bogart in ‘Casablanca’, England will always have Marseille. There was a similar sense of defiance and iconoclasm to Rick’s in Steve Borthwick’s attitude to a gathering crisis, the head coach bent on protecting his own and showing a deadpan face to the outside world.

This was a victory hewn in the character of the Cumbrian – a grafter, a non-complainer, a stoic do-what-it-takes personality, loyal to a fault. It is the last of those qualities, his sense of what is right and fair, that will come to the fore over the next few weeks. In short, George Ford has to stay as the starting No 10. It is as straightforward as that. Owen Farrell is back in the selection picture after next Sunday’s game against Japan in Nice. By then, England ought to be more or less assured of qualification for the knockout stages. It is nigh on impossible now to rate the chances of a Japan upset although Samoa will certainly challenge England. But as Bogey would put it, England’s memory bank is now replenished.

George Ford
George Ford has often been described as an ‘on-field coach’ and he used all his experience to see England home (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

They know that they can get a job done. They know how to tough it out and find a way to victory. It was never pretty on Saturday night, boot-to-ball and all that, but it was bang on the money to subdue and then dominate the Pumas, all the more so following the early loss of Tom Curry. Yes, yes, the red card was harsh and unlucky, and those of another time might sigh and wonder if the game has gone soft, to the dogs even. Indeed, if it is a natural instinct to want to make contact on an opposition player – and for Curry who has not had that sense of relish since his last game in May – then those inclinations have to be curbed. The game has changed, is changing, and for good reason. England have proved utterly incompetent at coming to terms with that. Curry should have known better and backed off, as difficult and counter-intuitive as that may be.

Was Curry’s dismissal actually the making of England ? As well as the breaking of Argentina? Very plausibly so.

Those that argue it was not ‘intentional’ or ‘malicious’ are wide of the mark. That has nothing to do with judging the incident. If a collision happens then invariably someone is at fault. Curry was upright so therefore at fault. Simple as that. If you disagree with that point of view then give one of those affected with early onset dementia and see what you think then.

Was Curry’s dismissal actually the making of England ? As well as the breaking of Argentina? Very plausibly so. The Pumas seemed rattled by the early advantage they received, dumfounded when an expected superiority didn’t play out. Mind you, that’s where experience comes in as England are well-versed in coping with a 14 man set-up given that this was their fourth red card since Freddie Steward’s sending-off in March.

Tom Curry
Many have adjudged Tom Curry’s yellow and subsequent red as unfortunate but it was within the letter of the law (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

That England’s house did not collapse as if it were a Tory-regulated concrete-deficient school was due to other factors, notably an uplift in the performance of the pack and dead-eyed reckoning from Ford.

It was a master-class to rank alongside anything that Jonny Wilkinson produced in an England shirt, reminiscent of the time that Jonny downed the French with three drop goals on a wet Sydney night in the World Cup semi-final of 2003. Jannie de Beer’s five drop goal effort from 1999 also looked under threat at one point.

Ford, though, was intent only on doing what was necessary for the moment. Man down, take the points any which way you can, knowing that in all likelihood your team will tire before the opposition does. That juncture never arrived, albeit Argentina did manage the only try through Rodrigo Bruni in the 79th minute, for the simple reason that Ford had controlled the game to such a fine point that England were in safe territory by midway through the second half.

If Borthwick wants Farrell in his starting line-up then inside centre is his only legitimate option. Not only did Ford seize the moment with his three drop goals in nine first half minutes and 27 point haul, he also managed to draw the best from others.

We all know that Ford can cut the mustard. Yet he has never been fully and wholly and unconditionally trusted in the way that his one-time schoolmate, Owen Farrell, has. Sure, he does not have the clout of Farrell but equally nor does he pose any disciplinary risk according to the modern mores of the game. Ford is no shirker either when it comes to putting body on the line.

It would be ridiculous now to downgrade him to the bench. If Borthwick wants Farrell in his starting line-up then inside centre is his only legitimate option. Not only did Ford seize the moment with his three drop goals in nine first half minutes and 27 point haul, he also managed to draw the best from others. As captain (Farrell’s other asset) Courtney Lawes again led with distinction, with notable lieutenants in Ben Earl, Maro Itoje (come on, Maro, this is a start on the way back up the mountain, to makeshift flanker, Manu Tuilagi and scrum Capo di Capi, Dan Cole. Ford made them all tick.

Maro Itoje
Maro Itoje showed he is on his way back to his best with a much improved performance (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Argentina, by comparison, were awful, partly because England made them look that way and partly because they were frozen by the occasion, a pale imitation of what they are and what they still can be.

Likewise, England. They are back in the ball game, very much the front-runners in Pool D, but no more than that. This was a Puma-beating display not a world-beating one. That might be for another day. Who knows? It doesn’t matter for now. Tournament rugby is about dealing with the moment. Play, win and move on. England, against the grain of pre-World Cup form, have done that just. We may have had little faith in them but those who mattered – themselves and their Marseille stadium-hassled followers – did. Chapeau.


Allan 283 days ago

Accept drop goals as match winning rugby? Then your doomed!

BigMaul 283 days ago

Farrell at 12 is not a legitimate option. We’ve been down that road far too many times.

Let’s say it as it is. Ford was better in that game than Farrell has been for a long time. Lawrence and Tuilagi have both been better at 12 than Farrell has been in a long time. Farrell shouldn’t play. It really is that simple.

Mark 283 days ago

Please god not Farrell at 12, Ford should stay at 10 full stop.
And Marcus Smith should be the no 10 cover on the bench, with arrundell being given a shot at FB.
England need more attacking verve and pace.
England have for far to long been compromised the where to play farrell conundrum, just to ensure he's on the pitch.

Jonathan 283 days ago

Smith is our only 10 who presents a running threat, the opposition know that Ford and Farrell kick or pass making defence one stage easier. Fordy did a great job but the backs were woeful in attack meaning kicking was the only way to score. Daly was poor, it's all very well having pace but if you can't catch and pass at full speed, what's the point? England need to relearn how to commit a defender before passing.

James 283 days ago

Would be nice to see Smith getting his go in the remaining games. Maybe get him started at 15 and have faz on the bench. Really can't see the point in having Stewart in the team anymore. Especially when you have Daly who can catch almost as well but has a brain and bit of pace.

Dingbat 283 days ago

I quake at the thought of Farrell or Vinipolla getting into the side apart from as waterboys

Hove Vet 283 days ago

Oh Mick, I think that you’ve upset Team “Outraged of Tunbridge Wells”. As a Telegraph correspondent this lot seem to think you have to bang the Pro-Tory gong regardless! Good summary I thought, I would also have mentioned Mitchell who generally played a sensible game and linked well between pack and 10

Anthony 284 days ago

Yet another journo carried away with Ford kicking the life out of glorious running rugby.
Yes . He did truly well by scoring the points . BUT
The reports on a Sunday after england games ,for years, have said how the lack of attack is dreadful . Ford has 80 odd caps. Can ANYONE remember him carving the opposition up with line breaks . Farrel has been back to his best for Saracens and Smith , well we have seen what he can do .
We will not beat France or S Africa with ford at 10.
Lets not get carried away.
Ford is only good when the pack are on top. Otherwise he dissapears. You need Farrel or Smith to do something special in big games .

Steve 284 days ago

For Gods sake Cleary, just write about Rugby and leave your politics to another place - anybody with any knowledge of history will know that governments of both major parties share the responsibility for RAAC. And if you need to make a political point then how about comparing Welsh Labour's pathetically lacklustre respond compared to the proactive Westminster Government?

Mike 284 days ago

More or less a good write-up, but for your lefty-leaning political gaffe 'Tory-regulated concrete-deficient school'. ho hum.

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