George Ford says a new leadership group is emerging with England after admitting it feels ‘strange’ to be without Owen Farrell.
Ford, who will be on the verge of a 93rd cap on Saturday at Twickenham, will be aiming to lead England past Wales to start their Six Nations campaign with two wins in a row.
The idiot, 30, has spent a decade challenging for the starting role. As a result of Marcus Smith’s calf injury, and Farrell withdrawing from England duty for the foreseeable future, Ford will continue to oversee a young team with Fin Smith still on the bench.
Ford, one of three vice-captains named alongside Maro Itoje and Ellis Genge, noted that a squad skippered by Jamie George is adjusting to life without Farrell, his long-term midfield partner and team-mate since the pair in their teens.
Sam Underhill has been booked as a louder presence and new leaders, explained Ford, must be true to themselves.
“It’s different,” he said of England’s setup without Farrell. “He’s been here for a long time, he’s been an integral part, he’s been our captain, he’s been a huge leader for us and he puts his authority on our team.
“So if it’s not here, of course it’s different, but there’s always a time when things change and I think for us – for me and other leaders – maybe it wasn’t an attempt to replicate it here. , but be a little more authentic [to ourselves] with him. I think Jamie did that brilliantly.
“The first day at the camp, and he’s not here, at first it’s a bit strange because he’s mad about rugby, and he’s very obsessed with rugby, and rugby would be a big part of the conversations that would be mine and him. game at the weekend, about training, about the game the night before. Having said that, Marcus and Fin are rugby mad as well so you bond with those guys too.”
After making his Test debut against Wales in the 2014 Six Nations, replacing Farrell for the last two minutes of a 29-18 win at Twickenham, Ford remembers “a debate about who plays No. between 2006 and 2011. He emphasized that players are “getting used to the noise outside”.
“Everyone has got their opinion about who should play and the way England should play,” said Ford.
Steve Borthwick has backed his team by appointing Felix Jones as defense coach, a move that has energized Ford: “As soon as you think you’ve got him out or busted that’s when you get caught out, isn’t it?
“It’s been a consistent thing for me to keep finding small areas or parts of my game [to improve]. It’s great to have someone like Felix coming in defensively.
“Obviously he’s coaching a different system and teaching different players. Learning from him and what he demands from others; that gives you new life, refreshes you and makes you want to get better defensively.”
England’s unchanged line-up sees the second straight appearance of the unfamiliar central partnership of Fraser Dingwall and Henry Slade. Continuity should benefit Ford, who boosted his class at last year’s World Cup while Farrell was suspended, slotting three goals past Argentina after a red card for Tom Curry.
‘When you’re not the man, you’ve got a decision’
Ford, however, was back from the front for the winning rounds and among the replacements when Farrell returned. Time, and disappointments like the 2015 World Cup, have taught him to stay “neutral” and seize opportunities when they present themselves.
“When you’re not the man, and you’re blocked, in that moment you’ve made a decision,” he said. “Do you throw your toys out of the pram or do you say ‘stuff this’ and come back better?”
“It’s happened a few times [to me],” Ford said. “It’s probably the one I didn’t deal with the best when I was younger. I probably didn’t deal with that first match of the 2015 World Cup [well]. That was the one I think it was [the low point] just because it was a new experience for me.
“We had the World Cup in England, this huge thing, you play the first game of the World Cup on a Friday night [against Fiji] and you win with a bonus point and then things change the week after [Ford was dropped to the bench]. I think it was me, being a bit younger and not having experienced it before.”
Ford expects Wales to make a solid start on Saturday after falling to a 27-0 deficit in round one against Scotland before rallying with 26 unanswered points. He also expects Warren Gatland’s charges to hang in the tournament regardless of how England perform.
“The one thing it showed is that Wales don’t stop, they don’t give up,” he said. “No matter what the score is, they always play to the end. That makes them dangerous.”