Bath's George Ford could usurp Owen Farrell as England's No1, says Stuart Barnes
Stuart Barnes says England must throw George Ford into the Test arena as soon as possible.
Last Updated: 30/09/13 11:20am
In the first half he stood head and shoulders above any player on the field. In age of power here is a throwback to the thinking days. He reads the game well enough to be a New Zealander. The 20-year-old has a fine rugby brain and has been seriously well educated in the art of the sport and not just the gym.
His dead-ball kicking for the corner is consummate; he did overcook one because he always goes for the five-metre line but he doesn't miss often. From one such kick the Bath pack drove over. His passing is rhythmic. He knows not just how but when to pass. Timing is everything.
The timing for Jonathon Joseph's try was as good as it gets. And then the sheer speed and change of pace for his 65m solo. Add a generally accurate display of restarts and a high percentage of goals kicked and you have one of the most exciting displays of class and composure we have seen from a young Englishman for some time.
And here is where it gets interesting. He was always rated a better fly-half than Owen Farrell at junior level and the potential is starting to pour itself all over the Premiership.
Farrell lacks his variety but... Ford swung Shane Geraghty over the try line for an own try of sorts.
Would Farrell do that? Not on your life. Would Farrell stub the odd goal kick as Ford is still prone to do? Would you want Ford or Farrell kicking for your life?
The gap between London Irish and the All Blacks is a chasm. Farrell has the Test match consistency in the bank. He doesn't do as much right as Ford but he does very little wrong and that counts greatly in the Test arena.
A steady display, good goal kicking and a break for a crucial Chris Ashton try against Harlequins is probably nearer to a Test match template than the razzle-dazzle of Ford at the Recreation Ground.
So what does Stuart Lancaster do? Forget the conservative nonsense about Ford being 20 and having time on his side. He is RUNNING OUT OF TIME. The clock is ticking towards 2015 and the Bath fly-half has the potential to overtake Farrell and provide some of the star quality England so desperately need. I have a vision of Ford and Farrell ending up 10 and 12 as they did for England junior teams.
If Ford is to play a part in 2015 he has to play Test match rugby this season. One year or less leaves him insufficient mileage on the rugby clock to handle the heat when things go wrong. Clive Woodward threw Jonny Wilkinson into the fray for this reason, Jason Robinson even more so. The end result was a World Cup. England won in 2003 because, first of all, they had match winners capable of handling the pressure.
The accepted wisdom is that the pack was simply the best. Well I have seen plenty of great England packs trudge off the field dominant but beaten. Class and experience combined was the core factor that ran through this side and a teenage-capped Wilkinson and a rugby league convert capped when he didn't know a ruck from a maul played the defining part.
If Ford's potential can be realised at the Test level he has to suffer a few bumps and bruises on the way. Farrell is undoubtedly my starter for New Zealand and one other but Ford should be seriously considered for either Australia or Argentina.
Sometimes you have to throw players to the Test match wolves and see if they can find their way out of the woods. Ford - if he maintains his current form - looks a prime example. New Zealand did just this with Julian Savea.
The winger was rampant on his debut but awful next game up. New Zealand introduced him quickly and then picked him with discretion. He is now one of the world's best wingers. Risks have to be taken to reach the top.
This seems a paradox when you read what comes next. The best Test teams on the planet don't always do the most things right but they always do the least things wrong. That summed up New Zealand's working win in Argentina Saturday night.
The home team gave the Kiwis problems in the scrums and pressed them for large periods but they made errors; and when they made them New Zealand capitalised. New Zealand, in contrast, offered few soft scores to Argentina. They rarely do.
One of this week's questions reflects upon the player of The Rugby Championship to date. Ben Smith is the obvious man but I mentioned the Springbok captain Jean de Villiers for the paucity of mistakes he makes.
Few errors more than sheer brilliance, are the foundations for Test match success but for World Cup glory, the one needs a little bit of the other. The All Blacks had Israel Dagg to break a game open in 2011, the Springboks had the imperious Fourie du Preez in 2007 and we have mentioned 2003. 1999 was all about Australia's defence allied with the shining genius of Tim Horan.
The selection game is one of balance. England has solidity, it needs more and so Ford has to be the Number One priority for consideration. He might not be quite ready for the Pumas in November but that should not stop the management dropping him at the deep (but not deepest) end.
Warren Gatland might be looking at the Scarlet's thrilling Jordan Williams in a similar light. Every time he plays he appears capable of changing a game. Game changers are required between now and 2015.
Plenty of those will be on the field when the world's leading teams meet in Johannesburg on Saturday. But the highlight might just be the influence exerted by two of the veterans. New Zealand are hopeful that Richie McCaw will return from fitness. South Africa will hope Fourie du Preez can maintain his stunning skill levels with both hand and boot against the remorseless All Blacks.
New Zealand are clear favourites to take the title but a victory for the Springboks would be more than consolation. It would convince Heyneke Meyer they are closing in on their great rivals as 2015 looms slowly on the horizon.
In Argentina the stakes are almost as high. It is a game neither team can afford to lose. A win for Argentina ends a run of losses and convinces them they are progressing. Defeat damages morale before a hard autumn campaign where Wales and England will be daunting opposition. Australia is wobbling all over the place.
Ewen McKenzie lost his nerve and dropped his best player and it wasn't until Will Genia returned at half time in Cape Town that Australia and Quade Cooper looked remotely like a rugby player/team. The nation is unhappy with style and form. It needs to finish with a bang.
There is a chance the game will be a tentative damp squib of an occasion. There is no such possibility in Ellis Park. Miles and I are heading to South Africa to call the game. Yes, I am indeed a lucky.....
Tune into Sky Sports 4 on Saturday to watch South Africa v New Zealand (from 3.30pm) and Argentina v Australia (from 11.30pm).
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Hi Stuart, who's been your player of the tournament from the Rugby Championship? For me Ben Smith has been right up there for the All Blacks. Cheers Julian
STUART REPLIES: Julian, hard to dispute Ben Smith as the main man but also a mention for Jean de Villiers; understated leadership and a player that does plenty right and hardly and hardly anything wrong.
Hi Stuart, who would you choose to captain England this autumn? I hear Tom Wood is pushing Chris Robshaw close but surely the Quins man has too much credit to his name and Lancaster won't be swayed by the odd game or two.Tim
STUART REPLIES: Tim, Tom Wood is a fine player but has been beneficiary of a rumour that he was set to lead England before injury/Robshaw which leads much of our press to shout his name in a herd like mentaility without giving a viable reason why he is more a leader than Chris Robshaw. Selection is about trust, form and potential; the odd game or two will not force the issue, one way or another.
Stuart, you highlighted Henry Trinder's form for Gloucester a few weeks ago, and now Manu Tuilagi is ruled out for England as well, is the Gloucester man ready to make the step to international level this autumn? He has to be one of the most in-form centres about and he's a specialist 13.Jonny Hughes
STUART REPLIES: Jonny, is he ready? None of us know which is where brave/smart selection comes in. I have been more impressed with him than Jonathon Joseph to date and with Joel Tomkins losing ground with injury He'd be worth close crutiny, especially if Twelvetrees, his club partner is the designated 12.