George Ford has labelled his recognition as the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2011 earlier this week as a “massive honour”, the England fly half having become his country’s first recipient of the age grade award.
The 18-year-old helped England reach the final of the IRB Junior World Championship 2011 in Italy, where they lost 33-22 to a New Zealand outfit featuring the other two nominees for the award, captain Luke Whitelock and flanker Sam Cane.
Ford was the youngest player in the tournament at only 18 years and three months, but his skills and vision in the No.10 jersey belied his tender age, the fly half always seeming to have time on the ball and more often than not selecting the right option.
“It’s a massive honour, especially when you consider the calibre of players who have won it in the past as well as the others nominated,” admitted Ford, who was unable to attend the IRB Awards in Auckland as a result of club commitments the Leicester Tigers.
Rugby is a team game
“I couldn’t believe it when I found out to be honest, but I’ve got to be quick to point out that rugby is not an individual sport. All of the lads were awesome throughout the whole campaign and I’d like to think that I’m picking up the award on behalf of them.”
Ford was part of an England Under 20 side which lost just once in 2011 under new coach Rob Hunter, securing the Six Nations Grand Slam before failing once again to end the New Zealand dominance of the IRB Junior World Championship, the Baby Blacks having won all four titles.
“Winning the Grand Slam in Ireland was a massive highlight. To remain unbeaten against the calibre of sides we played against took some doing, but we performed well each time we took to the field. Getting to the final of the Junior World Championship was also a great achievement, it’s just a shame that we fell just short against a strong New Zealand side.”
The Tigers Academy graduate is in good company with previous winners of the IRB Age Grade award including Aaron Cruden, Isaia Toeava and Jerome Kaino, who were all part of New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup 2011 winning squad.
“I really am just taking it each game as it comes, my focus is on Leicester at the moment and will switch to England during the Under 20 Six Naitons, but there are a fair few established names that have won the award in the past and it’s a massive honour to be part of them now.”
Ford’s performances and recognition as the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2011 have earned him the praise of Tigers’ director of rugby Richard Cockerill and England Under 20 coach Hunter.
“We’re delighted for Fordy,” admitted former England international Cockerill. “It is a big achievement and a reflection of the hard work that he puts in to his game, and the work that goes on. He did really well at the Junior World Championships in the summer and, after coming through the Tigers Academy, has made the step up to the first team and really fronted up.
“For a young man, he has a good skill-set, understands the game well and works really hard on his game. He is still 18, his game is developing all of the time and will continue to improve.”
Hunter added: “This is a massive achievement for George and fantastic recognition for him, his family and his club. He was the youngest player in our squad last season, and his success reflects well on the rest of the Under 20 players and the effort they all put in last season.
“George’s influence on the pitch and off it was enormous; he works extremely hard to maintain his high levels of performance and is a pleasure to work with as a coach. He’s a key player and we’re looking forward to having him back in the Under 20s for the Six Nations and the Junior World Championship.”