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Dublin: 6°C Thursday 24 September 2020

Ford: Irish dominance in Europe will have no bearing on Six Nations clash

The Leicester Tigers out-half is ready for the challenge of facing Joe Schmidt’s Ireland in Dublin.

NOW THAT THE small matter of the final rounds of European pool action is in the rearview mirror, the unrelenting nature of the rugby season means it’s full steam ahead for the start of the Six Nations.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland assembled back in Dublin yesterday evening as they prepare to head off to Portugal for a week-long pre-championship training camp, while England are doing the same ahead of that opening weekend showdown at the Aviva Stadium.

George Ford George Ford in action against Ulster on Saturday. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Coming off the back of a second successive clean sweep of wins for the provinces in Europe, there will be an incredibly upbeat mood in the Ireland camp, as the Leinster contingent link up with the rest of the squad following their victory over Wasps on Sunday afternoon. 

It is the first time all four provinces have progressed through to the knockout stages of European competition and certainly, Ireland are in a good space heading into their Grand Slam defence as the world’s number-two ranked side.

Conversely, it has been a difficult European campaign for the English clubs with two-time winners Saracens their only representative in the Champions Cup last eight, after Leicester Tigers, Gloucester, Exeter Chiefs, Bath and Wasps all failed to record a victory over Irish opposition during the pool stages.

But England out-half George Ford insists the Irish dominance will have no bearing on the Six Nations opener between the two nations.

“I don’t think it plays any part,” he said.

“It is not a great stat for the English teams but we will get together as a squad in Portugal and prepare as well as we can. It will be an almighty Test match in Dublin, but it will be completely different to what we have been playing in.”

Ford was powerless to prevent Ulster staging a memorable comeback victory over the Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday, a result which earned the northern province a passage through to the quarter-finals for the first time in five seasons.

Geordan Murphy’s Tigers finished bottom of Pool 4 with just one victory to their name this term, and there was obvious frustration for Ford after the hosts squandered a winning position.

“I pride myself on going out there and playing as well as I can and doing my job for the team,” he continues. “It is just disappointing from an out-half point of view that you lose a game like that when you are in such control.

“There will be things to look at from my point of view and the team’s point of view but I’m excited about what the next two-three weeks hold.”

Ford’s form has taken on even greater significance following news that Owen Farrell has undergone minor thumb surgery and is now in a race to be fit for the trip to Dublin on Saturday 2 February.

“I’m looking forward to meeting up with the squad,” he says. “Of course training is tough going into England camp, you need to train hard to be ready for an international game.

George Ford Ford scored eight points for the Tigers. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You get challenged all the time, but there are an unbelievable amount of resources there for you to get better on the field, off the field and with your recovery. You get challenged all the time. As a player you embrace it and love every minute of it to try to make yourself and the team better.” 

Looking ahead to the seismic clash with Schmidt’s Ireland, Ford — who required five stitches after sustaining a nasty gash above his right eye — said: “It is always a contest [against Ireland] and what I mean by a contest is whether from an aerial point of view or on the ground they are always brilliant in those areas.

“You only get one or two opportunities out there to score points and it is vital you take them if you want to get the result. It is going to be a really traditional tough test match and hopefully, we can do the basics of what we want to do to get the result.

I’m sure we will be getting our tactics in place and doing the appropriate training to deal with things coming our way but also to try to enforce a few things from our game. You have to understand what’s coming but you also have to understand the way you want to play as a team and your strengths.

He added: “They [Ireland] are a brilliant team, especially at home. The last 12-18 months in the way they have played and the results they have got speaks for itself. We understand the challenge ahead of us.

“We’re excited about what a challenge it is first game up, away from home and as we all know in the Six Nations if you win your first game then you are off, if you don’t then you are playing catch-up.”

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Ryan Bailey

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