Sale vs Bath: George Ford kick-starts his bid to make England return

Fly-half put in magnificent display in season's opener

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The Independent Online

Picture the scene: a series of summer Saturday mornings in Bath, as George Ford takes to his sofa, recovering from a shoulder operation, and watches on TV as Freddie Burns, Danny Cipriani and Owen Farrell do battle in his position for England on tour in New Zealand.

“It was tough,” admitted Ford after guiding Bath to Saturday’s 29-20 win away to Sale Sharks. “Sitting there in a sling, watching the Test matches was hard. The bottom line was I had to get [the surgery] done. I couldn’t carry on. I thought the boys put in some good performances. I’ve just been concentrating on getting fit.”

In a Ford family affair, George was the creator of both Bath tries at either end of a very satisfying result against a team who did a league double over them last season. His mum and dad were watching – Mike Ford is Bath’s head coach; his brother Joe came on for Sale for the last eight minutes, replacing Cipriani.

This was hardly a vote of confidence in Sale’s 26-year-old sometime playboy, who resumed his England career in June after a five-year hiatus. Cipriani kicked all his goals, but he was not served with the kind of ball to influence proceedings in a way that would have dazzled the watching England head coach, Stuart Lancaster.

 

Ford too kicked everything he tried from the tee, including a couple of 50-metre belters, for a total of 19 points, although a drop-goal attempt squirted wide. That revived memories of the 21-year-old’s dispiriting end to last season, as Bath’s previously promising efforts faded into a fifth-placed finish outside the Premiership play-offs and defeat to Northampton in the Amlin Challenge Cup final.

Ford had been suffering minor dislocations in his shoulder, but when England’s elite squad of 33 players is named next month it would be no surprise to see his name alongside those of Farrell and Burns as the fly-halves.

Sale’s scrum gave Bath some early angst – “slow poison, we call it,” said Bath’s forwards coach Toby Booth of the process of gradually getting on top in the set-piece. In the 78th minute, Bath’s England tighthead prop Henry Thomas put one over his old team-mates, winning a penalty for a collapsed scrum. Ford’s long-range kick, following on from him beating Cipriani with a bright-minded show-and-go scamper to make a try for Semesa Rokoduguni a few minutes beforehand, left Sale pointless. The home team had led for the first time in the 66th minute when Mark Easter’s try was converted by Cipriani.

Unlike Jonny Wilkinson, who used to practise his goal-kicking ad nauseam, Ford has scaled back his training-ground routine, in the care of Bath’s new skills coach Darren Edwards. “I’m still seeing [Wilkinson’s old kicking coach] Dave Alred about once every two or three weeks,” said Ford, “but he’s on the other side of the world more often than not, doing golf. Darren and I had a chat at the beginning of the summer and came up with a plan which we think is going to work best for all the goal-kickers at the club. I’ve tried to simplify it, really. For me it’s just the concentration level. Instead of going out there and kicking 40 goal kicks every day, I narrow it down to 10 or 12 and really concentrate on those 10 or 12. It probably saves your legs as well.

“I think it’s six weeks now where [England] boys can try and play as well as they can and stick their hands up. It’s a great change, naming the EPS squad later on in the season. The one thing Stuart [Lancaster] does is pick players on form. So to play well in these six games is huge.”

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