England have three capped players to select at fly half for the autumn internationals and none of them is George Ford. Yet Ford, in one way or another, dominated the first half of this game, in which Bath scored five tries before resting on their laurels in the second period.
The youngster who moved from Leicester in the summer possesses skills that none of Toby Flood, Owen Farrell or Freddie Burns has. He scored a gorgeous individual try from 65 metres here, but it is the quality of his passing which marks him as a player of infinite promise – though there was also sufficient evidence to show that he is not yet ready to jump the queue at number 10.
Mike, his father and Bath’s head coach, is clearly reluctant to over-state Ford junior’s case. Not so Brian Smith, the London Irish director of rugby and a former England attack coach: “He’s tearing up trees as a ten,” Smith said. “George has a lot of control, you can see the way players rally round him, he’s a class act. If he keeps playing that way, I don’t think they [England] can ignore him.”
To be finicky, you could pick out from Ford’s game the misdirected kick to touch, the mis-hit conversion, even the tackle which gave Shane Geraghty – not the biggest of men – his first try. But his game mentality, combined with self-evident skills will carry him far despite his lack of inches in a land occupied by giants.
That Bath did not kick on after the interval is a concern, particularly since they were playing against 14 men for a quarter of the game. But they did wash away memories of the heavy loss to Saracens a week ago with a display of wit and strength against the monotone offerings of the Irish; they did so, moreover, despite losing Dave Atwood and Anthony Watson to injury in the first 16 minutes.
Ford laid on the first try with a delightful pass to Jonathan Joseph, who stretched out a long arm to score, but the Irish were clearly disconcerted by the award of the second try. Peter Stringer stabbed a rolling ball into the corner and Topsy Ojo appeared to usher it out, the touch judge signalling a throw-in to the Irish; but Ford grabbed the ball and threw in to Guy Mercer who cantered over unopposed.
After inspection of the video, the try was allowed and Ford promptly offered his pièce de résistance: given the ball near his own 10-metre line, the fly half jinked past Matt Parr, swerved away from Tomas O’Leary and had the speed and strength to hold off Marland Yarde and Alex Lewington in the race to the line.
It is a try that will feature in Aviva Premiership best-ofs at the season’s end and more followed. Ford prodded a penalty into the corner and Rob Webber scored at the back of a driving maul. Even though Geraghty stemmed the tide, Bath came again before the interval when Semesa Rokoduguni broke through in midfield and Mercer scored his second try with the Irish defence missing.
With David Paice in the sin bin for a punch which may have been a case of mistaken identity, the stage was set for Bath to run wild. But the work rate of the visitors seldom faltered, their midfield kept a damper on the two centres and the lineout gave them a platform.
No praise could be too high for Kieran Low, the Irish open-side flanker, and they pegged Bath back in terms of territory even though a second player, Jamie Hagan, received a yellow card. Geraghty chipped and gathered himself for a second try in the corner to give his side something to take away from the match, but this will be a long, long season for the Exiles.
Bath: A Watson (O Devoto, 16); S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, K Eastmond (T Biggs, 75), M Banahan; G Ford, P Stringer (M Roberts, 70); P James (A Perenise, 60), R Webber (R Batty, 67), D Wilson, D Day (A Fa’osiliva, 41), D Attwood (capt; S Hooper, 5), M Garvey, G Mercer, L Houston.
London Irish: T Ojo; M Yarde, F Mulchrone, E Sheridan, A Lewington; S Geraghty, T O’Leary (captain; D Allinson, 68)), M Parr (J Yapp, 41), D Paice, L Halavatau (J Hagan, 41), N Rouse (I Gough, 52), J Sinclair (B Evans, 52), D Danaher (B Cowan, 41), K Low, O Treviranus.
Referee: L Pearce (Devon).
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