The Big Debate: George Ford versus Owen Farrell

England have won the Six Nations for the first time since 2011, a feat former head coach Stuart Lancaster never achieved. England are 80 minutes away from their first Grand Slam in an astonishing 13 years.

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The class of 2003.

For years the biggest problem for England coaches has been who to pick in the midfield, that problem is still there today but not due to the lack of international quality players but more and overwhelming number of players fighting for the 10,12 and 13 jerseys.

All of them seem to be under the age of 26 as well with Henry Slade, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Kyle Eastmond, Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Joseph, Sam Hill and Ollie Devoto all competing for just 3 places in a starting line-up add in a couple of older players such as Danny Cipriani and Luther Burrell, then the youngsters coming through such as Johnny Williams and Joe Marchant and you have a plethora of options.

It really is a headache, but a nice one to have for Eddie Jones and his esteemed team of coaches.

Fly-half, a pivotal role to any team, especially at the high level of test rugby, so far George Ford has been Jones’ fly-half and his main competitor for the shirt Owen Farrell has been shifted to 12 for the previous four games.

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George Ford and Owen Farrell.

Both have had fairly quiet campaigns going about their business relatively well without much fuss, that is of course apart from last week, where this partnership seemed to click into place.

Ford and Farrell in tandem which we saw glimpses of against Italy and Ireland blossomed into life against Wales. Ford looked confident behind his giant pack with the Saracens playmaker outside him.

The return however of Tuilagi and the form of Daly and Slade could threaten to upset this glorious partnership in the England midfield if not now then certainly when England travel to Australia in June.

There are already calls from some quarters to oust Ford for Tuilagi next week, but how can that be the case after what can only be described as a strong performance from the Bath out half.

He made two line breaks, made a try saving tackle on George North, kicked well out of hand and took the ball to the line therefore capitalising on Wales’ blitz defence. He looked like an international fly-half for the first time since last season.

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George Ford scoring a try in last year’s championship.

Ford was immense his only mistake coming when Dan Biggar who is in blisteringly good form himself charged down a poor kick from Ford.

The attacking mastermind surely has given Eddie Jones a thought of how to deal with this situation he finds himself with Ford pitted against Farrell.

Owen Farrell did kick well against Wales and his defence was as usual solid. Farrell is different to Ford, he doesn’t offer the attacking flair that Ford does which frankly is nigh on impossible to teach. The same way Ford doesn’t offer unflappable goal kicking or big hits.

Farrell was by no means perfect on Saturday his lack of vision resulted in a wasted try opportunity which would have put England out of reach heading into the final quarter.

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Farrell in action for England.

Neither deserve to be dropped, both have performed incredibly well, but Jones has to ask himself if one is to be dropped, flair or pragmatism, attacking or defence, Ford or Farrell?

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Bath Must Take Chance to Take Place at Europe’s Elite Table

Bath Rugby, a club steeped in history much like their opponent in Saturday’s semi-final Leicester Tigers. Bath have finally got their wish with their first home semi-final in the Premiership and it seems as though the cash of millionaire Bruce Craig and the recruitment of Mike Ford is paying off.

With Bath’s playmaking stars of George Ford and Jonathan Joseph have been stars for not only Bath but also England. Add to that a deadly cocktail of Anthony Watson, Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni and the power of skyscraper Matt Banahan and you have a backline most clubs would die for. The entertaining and potent backs have racked up 72 tries and have only lost one league game at home this season and that was to Northampton Saints during an international window that meant Bath were missing key players, of course Northampton were as well but without Bath having a real back-up for the Premiership player of the year George Ford they struggled to get any go forward.

Matt Banahan  making a break against Mogliano

Matt Banahan making a break against Mogliano

Bath have also developed a pack that are nasty something every pack needs, a pack that could rival the pack that contained players like Borthwick, Grewcock, Mears and Humphreys but now Bath have players like Louw, Attwood and Burgess and of course Bath’s standout forward this season. Australian number eight Leroy Houston who won the most recent forward of the month award. With their first choice tight five they have driven some of the best packs in Europe into the ground such as Toulouse and Glasgow. Having had NRL convert Sam Burgess turn his hand to being a flanker has only added to this vicious pack as Sam Burgess showed powering through the Gloucester defence to score last weekend.

Sam Burgess has been a revelation at flanker

Sam Burgess has been a revelation at flanker

Bath Rugby now have a shot at winning the title when they take on Leicester Tigers at the Recreation Ground. Last time Leicester came to play their bitterest rivals at the Rec Bath thumped the Tigers 45-0 in a thrilling contest when the lethal backs tore apart a rather mediocre Leicester defence in a powerful, absorbing display which showed what this red hot Bath side are capable of.

Bath have not won the league title since 1996 when professionalism was at a primal stage in it’s development following this transformation in 1995. Leicester have reached the play-offs ten times a record. The Tigers often roar into the play-offs and will not be an easy task for this Bath side. Bath have a huge chance this year to take their place as on of Europe’s elite by winning the most competitive league in the world.

Bath the only side with a clean bill of health in the play-offs and they have a home semi-final as the season comes to a close. The West Country side have also played the best brand of rugby out of the top 4 and have shown how powerful and precise their forward pack can be. They also now have a maturing fly-half whose inconsistency of last term a now just a memory as he marches his team around the field allowing the Bath forwards to get the ball rolling before the brilliant fly-half unleashes the tricky footwork of Joesph, the pace of Watson or the power of Banahan as defences can only look on.

George Ford scores against Scotland.

George Ford scores against Scotland.

Why England Need To Look South

The three best opensides in world rugby right now, David Pocock, François Louw and Richie McCaw, all three of which ply their trade in the Super 15. They are what us here in England would class as a ‘classic’ 7 or ‘southern hemisphere’ openside.

We have a ready made man to join the three best in the world that man is the Toulon flanker, Stefan Armitage who has been one of the rouge et noir’s star players over the past few seasons as they have become European powerhouses. Unfortunately England continue not to pick the flanker due to England’s selection policy of only picking players based in England.

You only have to look at the Premiership though to see that we need a southern hemisphere style 7. The top 4 teams at the moment all have a player in that mould, Calum Clark at Saints, Burger for Saracens, Louw at Bath and Julian Salvi at Leicester, while current England captain and opened Chris Robshaw’s Harlequins languish in 8th. At Harlequins they have another option much like Armitage, Luke Wallace who in November made the breakdown a living hell like Michael Hooper and David Pocock can for opposition.

It may be time for Chris Robshaw to move on, the man has had his day, and yes his commitment to the cause in unquestionable, as a leader, captain and role model he is second to none but as a 7?

The World Cup is just around the corner and Lancaster would be foolish not to select the Harlequins flanker as his captain for this World Cup or would he? With 2 of the finest opensides in the world David Pocock and Sam Warburton lying in wait in the group stage it could be tough for Captain Chris. Pocock is not alone as a great Australian 7 they also have Michael Hooper who has been Australia’s choice as of late due to Pocock’s injury nightmare.

It is high time Lancaster used the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause on selection policy and brought Steffon Armitage into the World Cup squad, he doesn’t have to start the Toulon flanker but if Robshaw is having rings run round him by Pocock or Warburton they will need an alternative and that alternative should be the Toulon openside.

Well Lancaster it’s up to you but England are going to need to adapt and bring in an ‘old school’ 7 at some point whether it’s now or after the World Cup is a question only Lancaster can answer.