Bath’s George Ford has come to prominence massively in the last year and a half, with the fly-half finally coming good on the raw ability he has shown. However, this was just that, untapped talent, perhaps until he started playing under Eddie Jones in the England team.
For Bath this season, Ford has scored 140 of the 462 points Bath have clocked this campaign. For England, he is not used as kicker often, with Owen Farrell a far better and more reliable place-kicker. However, he is utilised as a playmaking No. 10, with his intelligence, tactical nous and range of passing and kicking all adding an extra dimension to England’s game.
For Ford, the long unbeaten run Eddie Jones’ side embarked upon, which saw them win 18 games, 17 of which were under Jones, was a testament to the new way the side are playing, with the Bath man at the heart of so much that is positive about England.
It seems as though the number 10 has found a formula that really works for him, with the way he plays for Bath supplementing his style with England.
This is reason enough to question why Ford is reportedly moving back to former club Leicester for next season.
George Ford refused to answer direct questions about his @bathrugby future last night.
Chose his words carefully: pic.twitter.com/nYkCrgzK9q
— James Tennant (@_jameslt) 14 January 2017
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Supposedly, a lot of the reason is because Ford was unhappy with how his father was treated by Bath, as they dispensed of Mike Ford’s services.
It is unclear though as to whether a move back to Leicester is a backwards step for the England man. He will reportedly be payed £450,000 a year, meaning that he will be well compensated for his return, however, Sale were apparently willing to pay more for his services, but it is likely that Sale’s position and continued struggles played a part in his decision.
Positively, if the move goes through, Ford will be reunited with scrum-half Ben Youngs, with their half-back partnership one that is preferred by Eddie Jones. However, many see Youngs as a player that England should move away from, with his fairly weak defensive ability and the fact he takes an agonising two steps from a ruck before he passes the ball.
The negatives outweigh the positives here though. There has been a clear shift away from Leicester in the England setup recently. It used to be a case of England being Leicester and then a mix of players from other clubs, now, it is Saracens and a mix of other clubs, with the Tigers no longer a dominating force in the league and Europe.
Their domination came with the likes of Martin Johnson and Martin Corry in their prime, whereas the Tigers’ current forwards are not of the same ilk of the past.
Leicester still seem very forward dominated though. In the list of top try scorers this season, the Leicester player that has cross the whitewash the most is Adam Thompstone with six tries, nine short of top scorer Christian Wade, whilst Ford’s Bath teammate Semesa Rokoduguni is second with 10 scores.
The lack of any really impressive try scorers in the backs for Leicester alludes to the fact that the Tigers are still very forward dominated. This does mean that Ford is more likely to get the protection he needs from the forwards, with his size a problem, as Neil Back and Richard Hill displayed just how important protection is for a fly-half, as when they put up a wall around Jonny Wilkinson for England.
However, at Bath, he is surrounded by a group of very intelligent backs, something that is less likely to happen with the Tigers. After all, Ford is useless offensively if he is finding space and picking clever lines when the other backs are not on his wavelength because they are as good an exponent of attacking as he is, whereas Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson are intelligent attackers, able to pre-empt what is happening in front of them.
Ford displayed this intelligence against Wales in the Six Nations as he picked a clever line and threw a perfect pass to Owen Farrell who did the same, allowing Elliot Daly to cross for the winner:
— Old Sulians (@Oldsuliansrfc) 15 February 2017
For Ford, he is likely moving away form half of the England back line, with Joseph, Watson and Ford regularly taking up three places in Jones’ backline. Playing alongside international teammates allows for far better cohesion and it is something Eddie Jones will be desperate to see.
Perhaps Leicester have shown intonations that they are looking to revolutionise the way they play, and that Ford will be at the heart of this. However, changes like this take years to come to fruition, meaning it could be a very lean few years for the fly-half.
Perhaps Ford views Leicester as a sleeping giant though. A side with a huge amount of pedigree that will surely return to the top, as opposed to a fallen giant. For Bath, they have been playing well for a while, but they haven’t won anything. Ford may see Leicester as a more viable option for winning silverware then.
It is impossible to know whether this is the correct move for Ford right now. The negatives outweigh the positives for the No. 10 though. His development next to England colleagues will allow him to continue to grow, while Bath are a side that do play expansive rugby, much in the same way Jones wants to play.
While the fly-half may yet prove to be a huge hit at Leicester, it is more likely that remaining at Bath will make him a better player.