While the British & Irish Lions are out in New Zealand preparing to take on the All Blacks, Eddie Jones’s England got their tour of Argentina off to a winning start with a 38-34 triumph in San Juan last week.
Given England’s biggest names are unavailable for selection, Jones’ challenge was to find a blend of youth and experience which would be capable of matching the physicality and expansive play of Los Pumas.
Saturday’s showdown looked chaotic in parts, turnovers ruled the day, 27 in total between the teams, but it made for fantastic viewing.
When it came to Lions selection, George Ford was one name being mooted from certain camps, but truth be told, his omission was precisely the right decision.
Ford has endured an arduous Premiership and European season at The Recreation Ground with Bath. First his father Mike, former head coach, parted company with the club and things have not been great on the field since, leading to the England No 10’s departure in the direction of Leicester Tigers ahead of the new season.
Being exposed on a Lions tour, where he would inevitably be underused and lack opportunity, would have potentially made another significant dent in his confidence, while being given the opportunity to stand up as a leader on England’s tour of Argentina is the perfect assignment for him.
At just 24-years-old, Ford stood out as a statesman in the England side, pulling the strings and creating delightful play for the backs.
One criticism often levelled at Ford is his kicking consistency, but barring one failure, he boasted a perfect record from the tee – and he could be excused for his one miss, having just displayed exceptional pace to race through the entire Argentina half to dot down the try which leveled the scores at 31-all.
Before sprinting away, Ford exchanged a wonderful one-two with Henry Slade, who put in a fine display at centre – offering a mix of power and panache, his highlight being a wonderfully weighted grubber for Jonny May to score – a delightful rugby brain with excellent foresight.
Up front, there were more winners for England, with 18-year-old Tom Curry offering an outstanding performance in defence and at the breakdown, completing 11 of 12 tackles, while Newcastle prop Mark Wilson was England’s best defender with 16 of 17 tackles completed.
Wasps No. 8 Nathan Hughes was also potent from the back-row, beating three defenders on his way to making 52 metres.
Encouraging signs for England as even more talent emerges as the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup continues.