Ford trusts 'instincts' to haul England out of slump
Eddie Jones seems to be making an annual ritual of defending George Ford. In May 2016, following Ford's wayward kicking display against Wales, the Australian bristled at the booing of the Twickenham crowd and saluted his fly-half as a "fantastic rugby player". Twelve months later, Jones suggested that Bath's attacking systems had restricted the playmaker's development.
Just weeks ago, England's head coach remembered watching the 17-year-old Ford and hinted that a degree of "instinctiveness" had dulled at Leicester Tigers. Ahead of the intriguing three Test series against South Africa, and with England at a crossroads, Ford believes Jones was right.
"We had a good chat about the evolution of it all," reveals the 25-year-old. "When you're a young lad, you don't have too much responsibility. You go out and you play the game a bit more naturally.
"As you get more experience, you take on a leadership role within the team. That probably takes a little bit of your own natural game for a period of time until you recognise that it's done that."
Ford is not too proud to concede that a difficult season - finishing fifth with England in the Six Nations and missing out on a play-off berth with Leicester - has encouraged reflection. He admits he might not have been looking after No 1 enough.
"You want to win so you go out there and do everything you can to win," Ford says. "That's part of the reason you invest so much time in your team-mates. At the same time, you can't forget about your own game. The best thing you can do as a player is to play as well as you can individually.
"I wouldn't say there has been a light-bulb moment. For whatever reason, we didn't finish the Six Nations the way we would have liked and there have been a few instances at Leicester where we haven't played as well as we can."
Aged 17, Ford inspired England Under-20s to a Grand Slam in the 2011 Six Nations. He ended a wonderful season by beating New Zealanders Luke Whitelock and Sam Cane to the World Rugby Young Player of the Year award.
So, what would Ford take from a meeting with his teenage self?
"I like to think he wouldn't be too much different," Ford smiles.
"As a kid, you're not as experienced in managing Test matches or Premiership games. You're naive to that, so you play a bit more freely.
"I'd like to think I was a good runner with ball in hand and was a threat to defences by making instinctive decisions. At the back end of the Premiership season, I felt like that came back." (© Daily Telegraph, London)