When will the time come? Ford’s battle against the Smiths for the position of England’s Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street.
While it is common for players to have their names printed on their shirts, the No 10 jersey holds a significant meaning when England faces Wales in rugby union. The players who wear this number bear a heavier burden of national anticipation than any others, for better or worse. This is not limited to Welsh fly-halves, as they too feel the weight of past legends and the pressure of history on their shoulders.
George Ford is a perfect illustration. This upcoming match will mark his 93rd appearance for England, yet there remains a slight feeling of him working towards solidifying a consistent spot in the starting lineup. This has been a recurring pattern: after his impressive drop goal performance against Argentina in the World Cup last year, he was quickly replaced by the returning Owen Farrell while Marcus and Fin Smith are now challenging him closely. As the Sale player mentioned this week, “Perhaps I should have played at scrum-half.”
This weekend, he is the main focus. There is no Owen or Marcus, just a skilled professional who has played in many important England-Wales matches during his Test career. He made his debut as a substitute in this game ten years ago, but was later dropped to the bench for the crucial 2015 World Cup pool match – something he admits he may not have handled well. In February 2015, he had a successful performance as the goal-kicker under the Friday night lights in Cardiff, and in 2017 he played a key role in setting up Elliot Daly’s winning try. He has a record of 11 wins and three losses against Wales, making the good days far outweigh the bad.
However, the journey of being selected for a team has never been easy. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions, from frustration and disappointment to feeling gutted and angry. When I was younger, being dropped from the team would hit me hard and it was a constant struggle to bounce back. Now, I still experience those same emotions, but I have learned to quickly accept my role on the team. It’s during those tough moments when I’m not playing as well as I want to or when I don’t get a spot on the team that truly test my character. Will I throw a tantrum or will I use it as motivation to come back even stronger?
In addition to valuing self-confidence, he has also learned that it is pointless to worry excessively about the opinions of others. “Ever since I first played for England, there has been a constant debate about who should be the No 10. Even before I joined the England team…my father was a coach and it was the same situation. It has always been like this…I’m not sure why. Everyone has their own opinion on who should play and how England should play. You get used to the external chatter.”
There is still a significant amount of it present. Ford and Farrell have been friends since childhood, so few can understand the mental stresses that led Farrell to take a break from the national team. Ford, on the other hand, has learned to separate these things. He chooses not to focus on others’ opinions, as that would distract from his concentration. Whether people agree or disagree on who should play for England is of little importance to him.
Without a doubt, Farrell’s absence has altered the dynamic within the England team. There is a collective desire to speculate more, regardless of the predicted rainy weather, after glimpsing a more optimistic outlook during their victory in Rome last week. Ford affirms that there has been a noticeable change in the team’s energy and performance, both in training and during the Italy game where they had possession. The team aims to be a formidable force with the ball and showed promising progress last week, but they are determined to maintain that momentum and improve their execution. With only five games in the Six Nations, it is crucial for them to make rapid improvements. Their goal is to continue improving this week because they are in need of it.
Ford remains confident that his best performance in rugby is yet to come, regardless of the situation. He understands that in order to maintain his position against the skilled Smiths, he must step up immediately in the absence of Farrell. While acknowledging Farrell’s significant leadership on the team, Ford acknowledges that change is inevitable. He believes that, as leaders, it is important to be authentic rather than try to replicate Farrell’s style. Ford is continuously working on improving certain aspects of his game and knows that there is always room for improvement. He believes that becoming complacent or overconfident is a recipe for failure.
There could potentially be an exciting competition if Wales performs as they did in the second half against Scotland. Ford is cautious of what consequences may arise. He acknowledges the danger that Wales poses and emphasizes the importance of starting strong this week. He believes that Wales learned a lot from their game against Scotland, particularly in terms of their desired intensity and the contrast between the first and second half. He anticipates that they will adopt a similar approach when facing us.
Currently 30 years old and potentially a future coach, Ford is fully cognizant of the importance of himself and his younger counterpart Ioan Lloyd in relation to the speed of the ruck ball in front of them. While Wales flanker Tommy Reffell may be the pivotal player on either team, it will largely be up to Ford to control England’s strategic gameplay and, in the absence of Farrell, to score crucial points through successful kicks.
Now, let’s focus on the players wearing No 10. Although Ford never had the chance to meet the late Barry John, he acknowledges his status as a game legend and his impact on Wales while wearing that No 10 jersey. Ford believes that Warren Gatland’s team will be driven by this motivation. “When an event like that occurs, it brings the entire nation together.” England is expected to win, but they cannot sit back and wait for it to happen.