George Ford puts his foot down to steer Tigers past Saracens

Leicester Tigers 24 Saracens 15

Welford Road

There are two versions of the story surrounding the appearance of George Ford in the Leicester team: either he was summoned an hour before kick-off when the Tigers were forced to concede that Toby Flood's recovery from an ankle injury was not quite complete, or he was told a couple of days before the game and made the mistake of mentioning it to his dad Mike, the former England defence coach, who promptly blabbed to the media and earned the lad a 12-bore rollicking from the Welford Road hierarchy. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Happily for the 19-year-old outside-half, blessed with a Wilkinson-esque boot and an ice cube in the part of the brain where most players have a panic button, there is only one version of what happened next. "I'd say the future was bright for him," said Geordan Murphy, the Leicester captain, after leading the Midlanders into an eighth successive Premiership final, "but as he's here now, it's more accurate to say that the present is bright. Yes, he's young, but he's prepared to speak up in the changing room and when he does, people listen to him. He's played like that every time he's been in the side."

Ford kicked 14 points, far from negligible in a semi-final as bitterly fought as this one, and as a dozen of them were from distances of 45 metres-plus, it is reasonable to predict, even at this early stage in the teenager's career, that he will develop into one hell of a marksman. As he also left the England stand-off Charlie Hodgson clutching unwelcome handfuls of fresh Leicester air with an open-field break that led to Steve Mafi's try early in the second half – a try that opened up a six-point lead, just about the equivalent of a king's ransom under these circumstances – he could be well satisfied with his afternoon's work.

"I won't stand here and lie to you: I was nervous before the start," Ford said, an hour or so after helping relieve Saracens of their national title. If so, he was successful in concealing the fact from a raucous, riotous audience of well over 20,000. Some might point out that when a young No 10 finds himself stationed between a pug-ugly Leicester pack in full warpaint and two bristlingly aggressive members of the Tuilagi family, he is hardly being asked to perform without a safety net. All the same, playing outside-half in a game of such magnitude always has something of the high-wire act about it, and with Saracens hell-bent on knocking him off-balance, his sure-footedness bordered on the miraculous.

His contest with Owen Farrell, a mere 18 months his senior but something of a wizened greybeard by comparison, was compelling. The two played together, highly successfully, at England age-group level – Ford at outside-half, Farrell at centre – and both were central figures here, their kicking skills tested to the limit. Farrell, whose three-and-a-half step approach is invariably accompanied by a couple of eerily conspiratorial, almost guilty glances at the posts, accumulated most of his points from long range and missed only once. Ford, who moves towards the ball on tiptoe, fluffed a couple of shots, but by bouncing a penalty off the crossbar from a position two metres inside the Leicester half, he issued a timely warning to Saracens that any desperate late transgressions in their own territory were likely to prove terminal.

If Farrell, a true warrior spirit, was stronger at close quarters – only Mafi, the Tongan flanker who smithereened just about every Saracen on the field in another outstanding performance, broke him in the tackle – there was nothing much wrong with Ford's defence. Might his father have had something to do with it? "We've talked it through over the years," Ford Jr said. "But he'll be coaching Bath next season, won't he? When we play them, he won't be my dad any more. Not 'til the game's over."

The one thing Farrell did not have was the reassuring support of a first-choice back row and ultimately, it was this that cost Saracens their crown. Long-term injuries to the Scottish international Kelly Brown, the ferocious one-man-team Namibian forward Jacques Burger and the high-octane breakaway specialist Andy Saull left the visitors light in a crucial area, and Mafi, together with the ever-effective Craig Newby, took full advantage. It was no pushover by any manner of means: Jackson Wray and Will Fraser were breathlessly energetic and impressively resilient. But their opponents knew just a little too much.

With Saracens dominating the first half territorially, partly because they had the benefit of a stiff breeze and partly because Steve Borthwick ran the line-out show with customary expertise, Leicester were grateful for Alesana Tuilagi's opening try – a switch-run finish against the grain, set up by Mafi's alert rescuing of the ball after a duff throw from the hooker George Chuter. And it was Mafi who claimed the decisive score after Ford's break past Hodgson and a comical, if painful, incident in which Alex Goode and Mouritz Botha knocked each other into la-la land in a frantic attempt to halt the younger Tuilagi, cuddly little Manu, as he stampeded towards the line.

When it comes to the final against Harlequins in 12 days' time, there will be no doubt in the mind of Richard Cockerill, the Leicester head coach. "If he's fit, Toby Flood starts," he pronounced. "George Ford is a talented young player and he did some great things out there. He also made some errors, as he was bound to do. We want to handle this the Leicester way: get him playing two or three games in a winning environment while developing him in training. That's why he's not touring anywhere this summer. He's never going to be the biggest, so he needs to do some quality conditioning work while he has the chance.

"If he kicks on again next season, as I think he will, he'll never get an off-season again."

Scorers: Leicester: Tries: A Tuilagi, Mafi. Conversion: Ford. Penalties: Ford 4. Saracens: Penalties: Farrell 5.

Leicester: G Murphy (capt); H Agulla, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; G Ford, B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, D Cole (M Castrogiovanni 59), G Skivington, G Parling, S Mafi, C Newby, T Waldrom.

Saracens: A Goode; D Strettle (J Short 65), O Farrell, B Barritt (A Powell 77), C Wyles; C Hodgson, N De Kock (R Wigglesworth 53); R Gill (J Smit 77), S Brits (J George 77), M Stevens (C Nieto 60-73), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis 48), J Wray (H Vyvyan 78), W Fraser, E Joubert.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen