Quiet resurgences are pretty common across this series-winning England side – with Chris Robshaw and James Haskell leading the way – but in the past two games against Australia, George Ford has gone from being chastised to adored again.
Test rugby can be fickle that way.
Eddie Jones saw nothing wrong with his performance in England’s “warm-up” Test against Wales at the tail end of last month, willing to ignore his goalkicking struggles and preferring to focus on the work Ford had done in creating England’s five tries.
There’s an argument for both sides. Tries in Test rugby should always be welcomed rather than overlooked by focusing on other flaws – think about the annual discussions which take place every time the Six Nations rolls around about the dearth of attacking quality.
At the same time, an international fly-half can’t escape criticism if they finish off the kicking tee with a record of one out of seven attempts, as Ford did against Wales, and he was quite justly criticised as a result. Had the Test been of actual importance then the knives would have been even sharper.
Take away the kicking duties however, and Ford has proven he can play a major role in the outcome of pivotal games. His two assists in Brisbane were first-class – looping a cutout pass wide to Marland Yarde and then threading the kick through for Jack Nowell’s try, which clinched the game.
Ford has built his fledgling career around those type of moments, but the Test in Melbourne a week on wasn’t about being flash.
England needed Ford to play “old school” on both sides of the ball, controlling territory with his precise kicks to touch when England desperately needed relief in the second half with Wallabies hammering at the door. Ford kicked the ball 13 times compared to Bernard Foley’s five.
His defence as well was titanic. Ford is an easy target for the destructive trio of Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau yet at AAMI Park he more than held his own. England’s defensive effort as a team will go down as one of their greatest and Ford’s tackling deserves credit.
What happens next is interesting. Jones clearly likes Ford based off his defence of the Bath number ten post-Wales and then his decision to reinstate him in the starting XV after his work off the bench in the first Test.
The double-playmaker system that England were expected to shelve with Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi hovering around now looks irreplaceable, given that it’s helped England win a high-scoring Test and then grind out a historical result.
Jones spoke after winning in Melbourne about not being satisfied unless England come away from Australia with a 3-0 whitewash, but the reality is history has already been made and while his best XV have the measure of Australia, taking prospects like Teimana Harrison, Kyle Sinckler, Te’o, Ellis Genge and Henry Slade across to the other side of the world for them to only watch on from the stands feels like a waste.
Ford in that case may get a chance to put his feet up, but that shouldn’t be viewed as a demotion.
Before the tour to Australia, at one of the lowest moments of his career following a disappointing season with Bath and the consequent sacking of his father, Mike, it looked like he would make a minimal impact on the tour.
How he’s reminded us what a talented player he is.