Are Leicester Tigers Right to ‘Gamble All’ on George Ford

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SANTA FE, ARGENTINA - JUNE 17: George Ford of England kicks at goal during the International Test match between Argentina and England at Estadio CA Colon on June 17, 2017 in Santa Fe, Argentina. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Premiership Rugby’s most protracted transfer last season, eventually saw George Ford return to Leicester after four years away with Bath.

It was a move that Bath owner Bruce Craig was less than pleased about after stating his willingness to release Ford from his contract–provided he didn’t choose a return to Welford Road. Though, it turns out money doesn’t gift you everything you want. Whilst Bath lost Ford, they gained Freddie Burns as part of the deal.

Burns ended his three year spell in the Midlands, as did fellow fly-half Owen Williams who moved to Gloucester. This fly-half merry-go-round has, ironically, left Leicester considering their options more that any of the competitors they negotiated with.

Considering that, the Tigers have signed George Ford’s brother Joe from Yorkshire Carniege as their back up flyhalf. That will mean the Ford boys join Matt Toomua, as the axis on which to build a championship run with. Depth in possibly the most important position on the field is still a concern.

But it is a gamble that Leicester are willing to roll the dice on.

In a Word – Just How Good is George Ford?

Absolutely, though the answer seems to change on an almost weekly basis. When the stars align, he’s as good as anything that Northern Hemisphere rugby can muster…. with the probable exception of England colleague Owen Farrell.

After the disappointment of being omitted from this summer’s British and Irish Lions series, Ford played an integral role in England’s series win in Argentina. Surrounded by a group of fringe players, Ford showed just why he’s started nearly every test Eddie Jones has overseen as England coach.

His attacking influence was a good as many have seen in an England shirt for some time. His goal kicking; which is often criticized, was of the high standard commentators expect from an elite fly-half. Absolutely, he is worth the gamble.

Impressive Past 12 Months for Influential Youngster

For Bath last year he started impressively, kicking all the points as Bath secured a rare win at Northampton. He continued to be influential in games, even those in which his side lost. However beyond the New Year, the 24-year-old experienced a huge drop in form. His Bath side floundered and Ford was too often overshadowed by his opposite number in big games.

His former side’s semi-final loss in knockout competition to Stade Francias owed much to an example of Ford’s poor game management, as was his inability to kick goals under pressure. It is that sort of mental toughness, when ‘the heat is on’ that Ford must develop further.

What the transfer to Leicester will give him (more frequently than his former Bath side did) is a platform. The Tiger’s pack has the ability to dominate upfront, and Ford is a player who needs front foot ball, to be at his best.

bottom line is, if Leicester are good enough to give Ford that platform, he is worth the fee.

What Happens During the International Test Window?

This is a concern many Leicester fans share. Last year they had two number tens ‘on the fringe’ of their countries selection, that fortunately allowed them to keep both Burns and Williams over the Autumn Internationals and Six Nations. Not a bonus, but an assured factor is squad continuity.

Ford’s stature now in England Rugby means they will be likely be without their fly-half for around eight games next year – over a third of the season. That factor, coupled with utility back Matt Toomua’s possible inclusion an the Australian squad, means little brother–and back-up–Joe Ford could, be not only the club’s first choice fly-half, but their only fly-half.

It is a considerable risk. Especially when you consider that the likes of Saracens, Wasps and Exeter who all have able replacements. Signings who can be called on, and men who contribute regularly. A season can be won or lost over the Six Nations period–given the amount of absentees across the Aviva Premiership.

And Leicester must hope their Ford gamble doesn’t back fire.

Does Ford’s Signing Make Leicester Possible Champions

You would have to say yes. Given how close they went last year, even in a season of unquestioned turmoil. Leicester are now far better prepared this term. New head coach Matt O’Connor appears a calming influence, and with his experiences at Leinster, he also looks a more rounded coach with a good coaching group around him.

George Ford adds an new, extra dimension. And, despite the way he ended the season, he is an upgrade on both Burns and Williams. A willing runner, who takes the ball to the gainline to open up gaps for his outside backs. Telusa Veainu should be licking his lips at the prospect of lining up next to the England pivot.

As if the script could have been written any more perfectly, Ford’s first game back in a green jersey is at Welford Road against Bath. It’s too early to suggest a potential champion will emerge from that initial contest but Ford will hope to start as he means to go on–in a game Bruce Craig may want to be absent from.

Getting one over on Freddie Burns will be the best start to Ford’s Leicester return, as the Tigers look for their first title in five years. That is the best case scenario, and one that Tigers fans will be looking for. However, there are concerns for the Premiership side.

Should Burns return to the ground that he once called home, only to undermine the new first-five who is billed as his upgrade, then Ford’s time at Leicester could be an uphill struggle from day one.

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