Ford the Englishman with a view from abroad

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The day after Ireland's epoch-making victory at Twickenham last season, the winners' defence coach, Mike Ford, was not in Dublin or Donegal but in Oldham, watching a spot of rugby league. And who should he bump into but Phil Larder, his England counterpart, otherwise known as vanquished of HQ.

The day after Ireland's epoch-making victory at Twickenham last season, the winners' defence coach, Mike Ford, was not in Dublin or Donegal but in Oldham, watching a spot of rugby league. And who should he bump into but Phil Larder, his England counterpart, otherwise known as vanquished of HQ.

An ideal chance to rub it in, Mike? "No, it wasn't planned at all," said Ford. "Oldham are one of my old clubs. And anyway, Phil and I get on well."

Ford, of course, is as Lancastrian as black pudding and certainly as Larder, who at least was able to cheer his son Dave's part in a 54-10 romp for Leigh, the visiting team that Sunday. These two gurus of the tackle and the hit often get together, according to Larder, to compare notes on Italy or Scotland or whoever their team may be facing next.

"Do we 'eck!" said Ford, perhaps to head off suggestions that such a friendship might compromise Ireland today. After a moment's consideration he added, by way of a qualification: "Actually, Phil's been great for me. He is the greatest defence coach in the world, and you can only learn from someone like that."

The pair go back a long way, at least as far as the Great Britain rugby league tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea in 1988, when Ford was a scrum-half on the way to 10 caps, and Larder wasassistant coach. They will be together again with the Lions in New Zealand, with the 40-year-old Ford overseeing the defence of what is generally described as the midweek team. Larder, almost 20 years Ford's senior, will do the job for the Test side. "I've spent a couple of hours each with [fellow midweek team coaches] Ian McGeechan and Gareth Jenkins," said Ford. "I'll be like a sponge, soaking up the advice and the experience."

For now, Ford's sole focus is Ireland, the Six Nations and, of course, putting one over on his own country. "Any other time, I'd be rooting totally for England," he said in his broad Lancashire brogue. "Deep down, I'm sure my three sons will be supporting England. The two elder ones are on rugby scholarships with Warrington. But they were also in Ireland's dressing room after we beat Scotland, and they really enjoyed that."

Ford would have enjoyed the 40-13 win all the more had it not been for the Scots' counterattacking try early in the piece, sparked by a break-out from Chris Paterson, which briefly rang alarm bells about Ireland's defence.

There was a measure of déjà vu: a few months before Ford's appointment by Eddie O'Sullivan, a similar score by Pater-son paved the way for an Ireland defeat at Murrayfield which ruined their Grand Slam bid in 2001. Ford can cite another example, too: "We let exactly the same happen in France last year and it was a big turning point."

The obvious difference at Murrayfield two weeks ago was that Ireland were not caught out again, and won comfortably. "We made an error, but the boys showed good character in putting it right," said Ford.

Nevertheless, the weakness has been noted with the attention turning to England. "Most tries are scored from turnovers and kick returns, when the defence is least organised," said Ford. "The kick-chase is vitally important, or the likes of Jason Robinson can shred you."

Last March it was the long passing of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, leading to Girvan Dempsey's try in the corner, which shredded England's long unbeaten record at Twickenham. O'Driscoll is Ireland's defensive leader in the backs (Simon Easterby does it for the forwards), so the captain's return from injury is welcome.

Ford has "analysed England to the nth degree", yet finds their attacking phases tough to predict. "I'm teaching our players to defend what they see. England have so many dangerous players, and are very much a play-as-you-see-it side once they get to third or fourth phase. If we get our resetting wrong on the day, we can get hurt."

Which might please Ford's boys, and certainly Phil Larder, but would more than just ruin Mike Ford's weekend.

Comments