Revealed: The secret dossier that helped Ford reclaim England’s No 10 spot
No10 has rediscovered his mojo in Japan with a little help from his father. By Gavin Mairs
It was after a two-hour flight from King Shaka International airport to Cape Town in June last year that George Ford faced one of the defining moments of his career. In the previous fortnight, Ford had started at fly-half in each of the first two of England’s Test matches against South Africa in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
On each occasion England had raced into a commanding lead only to crash to successive defeats that would cost them the series and heap more criticism on head coach Eddie Jones.
That 23-12 loss in Pretoria was England’s fifth successive Test defeat and the head coach, under increasing pressure from within the Rugby Football Union and the Premiership clubs, acted decisively.
It no longer mattered that Ford had started at fly-half in 28 out of the previous 30 Tests under Jones and his midfield partnership with Owen Farrell had been the fulcrum of the side that had won the Grand Slam in 2016 and the Six Nations the following year.
Instead, just over a year out from the World Cup, Ford was dropped and found himself out in the cold, with Jones opting to start Danny Cipriani at fly-half, with Owen Farrell staying at 12. Cipriani’s kick to Jonny May sealed a 25-10 win over the Springboks in Cape Town, easing the pressure on Jones but further shrouding Ford’s England future in doubt.
Ford, however, had already made a vow to himself that the disappointment would not overwhelm him.
It started with a phone call to his father Mike, the former England defence coach, now Leicester’s attack coach, just after the squad had arrived in Cape Town. Ford Snr recalled the conversation. “George was so disappointed,” he said. “In the two previous games England had built up two really good leads but for whatever reason lost the games and then Eddie had dropped him. “As a coach you look at players who have been dropped and obviously the way they train, the body language and the way they try to help the team.
“What you don’t want as a coach is the player who thinks about himself and sulks a little bit and complains that it is not their fault. They go through that grieving period of being dropped and they get their heads around it and realise the only way they can get back in the side is to go out and train well and show the attitude that is for the best of the team. “Sulking and feeling sorry for himself was completely the opposite way to do that. So we basically talked about not grieving. For whatever reason, it is done. And the question was then, ‘How can he get back in the team as quickly as possible?’” That process began with an immediate reaction by Ford. Instead of sulking, he offered to run the water and goal-kicking tee during the match for Farrell despite the driving rain at the Newlands Stadium.
Different worlds: George Ford was dropped after England’s defeat to South Africa in Pretoria (below), but is a player transformed now (right) as he celebrates his try against Argentina