Steve Borthwick has hailed the performance of George Ford, the out-half who scored all 27 of 14-man England’s points in their redemptive 27-10 Rugby World Cup win over Argentina in Marseille.
The rookie Test-level coach’s side came into the Stade Velodrome fixture as underdogs following a woeful run of form that featured the loss of five of their six most recent matches and the concession of 30 tries in their nine outings since Borthwick took over from Eddie Jones.
However, despite dramatically losing Tom Curry to a third-minute yellow card that was soon upgraded to a red following a second look by the foul play review officer, England demonstrated determined, inspiring resilience to upset the odds and they would have enjoyed a deserved 24-point winning margin but for the concession of a late, late consolation try.
It was only on August 19 in Dublin when Ford started his first match for England since March 2021. A four-game suspension for skipper Owen Farrell opened the door to that Ford comeback in the No10 shirt and he went in to produce a smashing effort in France with the boot that featured a 10-minute drop goal hat-trick as well as six successful penalty kicks off the tee.
“I thought George was magnificent this evening,” beamed Borthwick in the aftermath. “Not just his kicking where he scored the points, but his composure and his management throughout. Tonight is another example of the great leadership that is in this England team.
“A lot has been said in the past about the leadership in the England team but what I see is a group that is packed full of senior players who are fantastic leaders like the man next to me [Courtney Lawes]. George, as we have discussed, Jamie George, Ellis Genge, the list could go on. We just said not one man wins a game and they did very well today.”
Tell us more about Ford, though. What makes him so special? “I see his all-round skill set is top class, his ability to run, pass, kick is top class and his ability to think clearly in the highest pressure circumstances is exemplary.
“He seemed to have more time. When he was kicking those drop kicks it felt like he had more time. When he was kicking those high balls it felt like he had more time than other players do and I think that is a sign of a real, real top-quality player.
“Come World Cup there is a higher instance of drop goals, higher than tier one rugby outside World Cups. George took the opportunities really well today.”
Lawes, who has taken over the captaincy in Farrell’s enforced absence, added: “He [Ford] sees things that a lot of players don’t see. He has not just got the job of getting himself right but he has also got to organize the team around him and he does that exceptionally well. Today he really put us in a position to a position and win that game.”
Curry’s yellow for his head-on-head collision with Juan Cruz Mallia was soon upgraded to red but, in contrast, there was no upgrading the yellow card shown soon after to Santiago Carreras for his collision with Ford after the England player had got his kick away.
Despite Curry being the third England player to be red-carded in four matches, Borthwick refused to be drawn into comment on that incident. However, he did reference the Carreras incident, remarking how a similar yellow card for Mallia against South Africa resulted in a citing and his suspension for his collision with South Africa’s Grant Williams.
“Clearly I am not going to comment on what is going through the disciplinary process now,” said Borthwick about Curry. “I thought the other one was very interesting. It looked very similar to an incident just a few weeks ago that upgraded to red, so we will wait and see what comes.”
It was Thursday, on arrival in Marseille, when Borthwick stressed he felt his team had been written off way too early as the World Cup hadn’t even started. How vindicated did he feel after he was proven correct?
“I talked during the week about how I sensed from the players that they felt they had been written off a little too early and I think they are a quality group of players and I reiterate that again, you saw that out on the pitch today. The players showed their experience on the big occasion. I certainly felt that these players were ready to perform on the biggest of stages.
“Right now we are pleased with the win, pleased that we stepped forward in some areas. We have to adapt. We are going through a disciplinary process now with Tom Curry so we will have to be ready for what comes from that to prepare for Japan next Sunday.
“These players should rest, recover and enjoy this week because they deserve it. From a coaching point of view, we move onto Japan and our preparation for Japan with the team will start on Monday.”