England's George Ford watched Roger Federer to help hone his kicking

NIK SIMON: George Ford has the focus of Roger Federer! How watching the Swiss tennis master has helped hone the England fly-half’s kicking

  • George Ford admired tennis stars Roger Federer and Carlos Alcaraz to improve
  • England scored 52 points against Japan when the sides met last November
  • Jonny Wilkinson has been sharing wisdom with Ford throughout the summer 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

With the thump of tennis balls providing a steady beat in the background, George Ford is talking about Roger Federer. England moved south this week to the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, where Grand Slam champions are taught all about remaining calm and in control.

‘I’ve been fortunate enough to watch Wimbledon a couple of times and seen some five-set matches,’ says Ford, taking in the surroundings where Serena Williams trained for the best part of a decade. ‘Mentally, you see a game on a fairly level playing field and then someone breaks and it finishes quickly.

‘There’s a bit of a wearing down process, not too dissimilar to rugby after 60 or 70 minutes. I went to Wimbledon this year and watched Carlos Alcaraz. I’ve never seen a ball hit as hard in my life, with as much accuracy. Then you look at him and he’s not even sweating. Before that I loved Federer, how calmly and elegantly he played the game. As a 10 you want to always look in control and have that calming influence, so he was the one I watched.’

Against Argentina last week, Ford identified the first 10 minutes of the second half as break point. ‘We were 12-3 up and it’s a whole different game if they get the next score to make it 12-10.’

Ford delivered his own Federer-like performance, kicking 27 points. He made Argentina look like an overweight veteran in a legends match, nicking point after point as he brought back the art of the drop-goal. He booted confidence back into England’s camp and they travelled down to the Cote d’Azur with a new sense of conviction.

George Ford has studied the work of some of the best tennis players to help improve his game

The England fly-half admired Roger Federer for ‘how calmly and elegantly he played’ tennis

Steve Borthwick spoke with a new tone of authority after announcing his team on Friday. He challenged a journalist who asked about England’s try-scoring capacity. ‘If you go back to our most successful World Cups in 2003 and 2007, how many tries did England score in eight tier one games?’ He paused before delivering the answer: ‘Four.’

Jonny Wilkinson was the mastermind behind those campaigns and he has been sharing wisdom with Ford throughout the summer. ‘You watched Jonny’s era between 2003 and 2007; the influence drop goals had on the game then was enormous,’ says Ford. ‘They’ve not gone but they’ve probably been underused. Everyone thinks you need to score tries every two minutes and you need to hold the ball.

‘Jonny’s big thing is don’t worry about the posts. Obviously you need to know where they are but the only thing you control is where you place the ball and what you do with your body.

‘Our first intention is to get behind the ball, get into some attack shape, go at teams, cause damage and score tries. That’s our first intention, of course it is, but when you feel your attack’s slowing down a bit, that’s when you’ve got a couple of options.’

England scored 52 points against Japan last November and they must rediscover their try-scoring capacity to challenge the heavy hitters in the knockout stages.

Jonny Wilkinson has been sharing advice with Ford, who kicked 27 points last weekend

Steve Borthwick spoke with a new tone of authority after announcing his team on Friday

Victory today will effectively clinch their place in the last eight but they must overcome a Japanese team with a history of big upsets. The Brighton Miracle movie about their victory over the Springboks in 2015 will no doubt see a streaming spike this month. Borthwick was part of their coaching team that day and he has been formulating a detailed plan to dismantle his former colleagues.

‘It’s a different challenge to Argentina,’ says Ford. ‘They play with more speed and pass the ball a lot more. They want to move the ball around a little bit so defensively it’s not as clean cut as Argentina might have been. They switch direction a lot more and come up with tricks and special plays so we’ve got to be alive.

‘Defensively they fill the field really well, they’ve got a lot of numbers in the line and they’re extremely fit. I imagine when we look up they’ll have a lot of numbers but we can’t be spooked by that. We can change that defensive picture by the way we attack. Our intention and our courage has to be right at the top. There might be a bit more space for attacking kicks if they’ve only got one in the back-field and 14 in the front line.

‘Did you see the France-Uruguay match? Uruguay were unbelievable with their physicality. We want to learn lessons when it doesn’t necessarily involve us. If you don’t get your intensity and physicality right, you’re going to be in for a hard day at the office.’

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