Rugby World Cup 2019: Why George Ford may prove to be England’s most important player in Japan

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History tells us that back-up fly-halves are among the most useful and important players of a Rugby World Cup squad. Everyone who has followed rugby over the last decade is familiar with the Stephen Donald story, when the Waikato fly-half was called up as fourth choice to win the World Cup for the All Blacks just 12 months after he was castigated and exiled for costing them the Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia.

It is one of Eddie Jones’ favourite tales to tell when discussing selection – particularly when answering the constant questions surrounding Danny Cipriani – and proves a reminder to those outside the squad that they can be just as important as those in it, should fate fall in their favour.

That resonates within the current England squad none more than with George Ford, the captain of yesterday’s experimental side that defeated a full-strength Wales so impressively. Ford may be certain to go to Japan as Owen Farrell’s understudy, but he is exactly that – Owen Farrell’s understudy.

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Where Farrell and Ford used to play side-by-side, Jones now has Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o to choose from, the impact 12s he has long craved for. The likelihood is that Ford will play the support role, and start at least one match in the form of either the first or second pool game – probably the second against Tonga – and possibly two if England seal their place in the last eight with a game to spare, unless injury interferes.

Yet it has also been Ford who over the course of the last week has impressed so much. The 26-year-old has been forced to mature a lot over the last 12 months, mainly due to the responsibility piled onto his shoulders at Leicester where he was one of the few bright lights in their darkest season, and it’s clear now that England are reaping the rewards of that development.

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