Six Nations
Ford: Ireland are more than just Sexton
ESPN Staff
February 23, 2015

England's George Ford was full of praise for his Ireland rival Johnny Sexton but has warned his fellow team-mates not to fall into the trap of just targeting the fly-half.

It was an approach used by France in their 18-11 loss in round two of the Six Nations as they sent battering-ram Mathieu Bastareaud down Sexton's channel relentlessly on February 14, only for the Sexton to wrap up the French centre more often than not.

Sexton copped a split eyebrow and a black eye from two clashes of heads, but suffered no lasting effects on his return after a 12-week concussion lay-off.

Ford's elementary rugby education came at the hands of stalwart Ireland half-backs Peter Stringer and Ronan O'Gara: the 21-year-old admitted he can now complete his rise to Test prominence by emulating Sexton's poise.

"It's definitely not just a case of stop Sexton and you stop Ireland at all I don't think," said Ford. "I think he's a brilliant player, you saw that against France: after being out for 12 weeks to come back and play like that, he drove Ireland to that win.

"He's just massively influential in that team, everything goes through him. He's got a brilliant rugby brain; he's a very smart player. The biggest thing is his desire to win and hunger to get the best out of the players on his team, but also his determination to go out and give his best as well.

"But their physicality is unbelievable with the pack they've got. The breakdown is always massive against them, and that's probably what decides the game.

"Rory Best and Sean O'Brien are brilliant over the ball, and brilliant at disrupting other teams' ball too. So you've then got Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney at full-back, who are all massively dangerous as well."

Ford's rugby immersion has offered the ideal head-start: the Bath star's talent has always been prodigious, but private kicking sessions with the Ireland squad as a 10-year-old must accelerate development. Bath boss Mike Ford allowed his sons ringside access to his days as Ireland's defence coach, and a young George took full advantage.

The eight-cap playmaker still has the shirt Peter Stringer gave him as a 10-year-old - a constant source of mirth now the pair are Bath team-mates. Ford is one of rugby's most astute students, tirelessly poring over matches and assimilating all the sharpest elements into his own approach.

From early tips from O'Gara and Stringer to borrowing the best bits from Dan Carter and Matt Giteau, Ford is determined to keep on learning - even from current Ireland counterpart Sexton.

"You try to watch as many games as you can, just because you love rugby," said Ford. "But you also want to see the way others play, how they see the game and what they do.

"You're constantly learning watching games, so to watch Sexton how he goes about his game, the way he drives his team and how influential he is, that's something you can only learn from as a 10."

Former Great Britain rugby league half-back Mike Ford acted as Ireland's defence coach from 2002 to 2005, with his sons often found milling around the Test camps. Even as a primary school pupil who had never played rugby union, George Ford seized any advice he could.

"My dad brought us into the changing room after a game at Twickenham once and Peter Stringer gave me his shirt," said Ford. "I was still young but it fit me because he was that small!

"He remembers, and I remind him all the time. He just laughs at that story, he's a brilliant guy. He said it was the weirdest thing ever to be playing in the same team as me at Bath, but he soon got used to it I suppose.

"The likes of Strings and Ronan O'Gara gave me great advice, we used to go and kick balls back to them and things like that. Growing up with that experience, to see those players and how they trained, it was brilliant. The way O'Gara managed the game, his kicking game especially was awesome."

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