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England's George Ford is the son of Mike - Ireland's former defensive coach

England's George Ford is the son of Mike - Ireland's former defensive coach

Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

England's George Ford is the son of Mike - Ireland's former defensive coach

Like any other 11-year-old infatuated with sport, George Ford would rarely decline an opportunity to tag along with his old man to watch a game of footy.

In this particular case, though, the kid had a level of access denied most of his ilk.

For father Mike is one of the best defensive operators in the northern hemisphere and, for three years in the last decade, he marshalled Ireland's defence.

Aligned with Eddie O'Sullivan, between 2002 and 2005, he formed part of the significant coaching breakthrough that delivered a third-place world ranking and, in 2004, a first Triple Crown in a generation.

It was at this time that out-half Ford Jnr, at just 20 a likely debutant from the bench tomorrow at Twickenham, was afforded a most intimate glimpse at one of the world's greatest ever players, Brian O'Driscoll, amongst others.

"My dad was coaching Ireland at the time, he was defence coach and we just went over to Ireland to watch the Test matches," explains Ford of his first encounter with the midfield maestro set to equal the international caps record tomorrow.

"He is still in his prime now but he was outstanding back then. He was brilliant to watch. I was about 10 or 11.

"I met Brian back then. I met most of them back then. Brian and Paul O'Connell, who are playing this weekend, and obviously Peter Stringer who is at Bath now (where Mike is head coach to his son).

"There is a funny story that he took us all out for an ice cream when I was about 10. Now I am playing with 'Strings' so I wind him up about that at times."

Yes, he really is that young. Ford Snr, who left Ireland when denied a greater role in the attacking sphere, went on the 2005 Lions tour and, after serving some time with England's back-room staff, has now ended up tutoring his son as Bath head coach.

"It is massive to have that influence," Ford Jnr says of the former Ireland assistant.

"With my dad being a professional rugby player himself in rugby league and having all the experience of his coaching career as well, he has been unbelievable, not just to me but my brothers as well.

"I feel sorry for my mum because it is a bit of a rugby-mad family. We just talk rugby 24-7 and have rugby on the TV all the time!"

Substitute Johnny Sexton for Ronan O'Gara, given the minimal appreciable difference between the pair's skillsets, and the midfield axis Ford may confront at some stage tomorrow will virtually mirror that which he used to witness as a goggle-eyed schoolboy.

"There is no more experienced or skilful 10, 12, 13 in the Six Nations," he admits.

"You see what they have produced for Leinster and Ireland over the last few years and it has been outstanding. They have been so clever in what they do. They have a lot of nous about them and they are so clever in that midfield."

Touted as a prospect for some time now, such that he declined to stay at Leicester in a desperate quest for regular game time in the Premiership as he forges World Cup ambitions, Ford admits that the prospect of a whirlwind international debut slightly unnerves him.

"Everyone is different," he explains ahead of the high-stakes Test. "I am all right now but I will probably get a little bit nervous towards Saturday. I am not like Luther Burrell, I am not sick before the game.

"I just try to relax, especially in a position like 10 when you have got to keep calm about decisions on the field. You can't really afford to lose your head.

"Speaking to the other lads they say the intensity is a different level, the physicality, the little margins the games are decided on are maximised.

"I have been thinking about it quite a bit. It will be a step up from what I have been playing. I can't wait."

FLEDGLING

Not knowing when he may be required adds an extra layer of frisson; should starter Owen Farrell be cut down in the opening minute, the fledgling star must be ready.

"Definitely," he affirms. "You never know what will happen, you just have to prepare for the game like you will get on in the first minute.

"You have to be comfortable in what you want to do and achieve in the team as you don't know when it is going to come."

If there's one thing Ireland can be envious of, it is this potentially explosive rivalry at out-half between a pair who once went to the same school, walked home together and, apart from a furtive shimmy to the sweet shop, absorbed themselves in street rugby.

"My relationship with Owen is brilliant," he says. "We each try to help each other as much as we can. If that's the best thing for the team, that's the way it is."

Irish Independent