Ford and Farrell backed to succeed
Published 10/01/2014 | 18:22
George Ford and Owen Farrell's "spooky wavelength" can be a defining feature of Stuart Lancaster's England squad, according to Under-18s coach John Fletcher.
Bath's 20-year-old fly-half Ford won selection to England's Elite Player Squad for the first time this week.
Former Newcastle Falcons rugby director Fletcher selected Ford for England Under-18s when he was just 15.
Ex-England A centre Fletcher paired Ford and 16-year-old Farrell at 10 and 12 in the Under-18s' summer tour to Argentina in 2008, a nd the England age-group coach sees no reason why Lancaster could not follow suit at full international level.
"I watched George play for England Under-16s when he was a year younger and based on that we took him to Argentina," Fletcher told Press Association Sport.
"He had enormous ability even then and I knew from experience from my work in Newcastle that players in that position need to be stretched, s o that was what we did with him.
"He had just turned 15 when we took him on a three-week tour to Argentina, with the likes of Joe Marler, Christian Wade, Mako Vunipola, Freddie Burns and Rory Clegg."
Fletcher guided Toby Flood and Mathew Tait through Newcastle's academy, before coaching Jonny Wilkinson at first-team level.
The former Northampton centre admitted he needed little convincing that Ford and Farrell could handle quick elevation through England's junior ranks.
"George was very comfortable straight away," Fletcher said.
"We took Owen Farrell as well, who was only an Under-16, a year above George.
"They were really good mates. They hit it off straight away, they were very close: they played fantastically well together.
"It was almost spooky in terms of the wavelength that those two were on.
"They were very close personally, and certainly from a rugby point of view they know each other inside out."
Fletcher said it is no coincidence Ford and Farrell are so driven and focused given their lineage.
Former England and current Bath coach Mike Ford has helped sons George and Joe forge professional careers, a nd rugby league great Andy Farrell guided son Owen at Saracens before joining Lancaster's England backroom staff.
"George understands the game, he's a very mature, sensible person," said Fletcher. "He knows exactly what he wants and understands what it takes to get there.
"That is pretty uncommon, but especially at that young age. He thinks like a coach: clearly his dad's a top coach and they have always had a very close relationship.
"So there was no surprise to me he had that understanding and maturity: he'd probably been like that since he could talk.
"The same goes for Owen. Both their dads were top-class players and are now top-class coaches. They've had access to all that knowledge all their lives.
"It's definitely an option to play them together for England. Stuart's well aware of it, because he's known all about these players for a long time too.
"But if they go head-to-head for the 10 shirt then that will only benefit English rugby b ecause, believe you me, they will both go hard at it.
"Nobody's there just to sit on the bench. You need competition to drive performance levels, and that's what you'll get from Owen and George.
"They are great mates but they are incredibly competitive, that's one of their main characteristics. The two of them are very, very competitive.
"They are very similar in lots of their qualities, but they will be incredibly determined and unbelievably disappointed if they miss out. Any disappointment would be short-lived though, and they would then look to support the other.
"That's who they are and that's partly what makes them great players. Their special awareness, their game sense and their core skills are all fantastic. Add to that their determination to be the best, and that's what sets them apart."
Fletcher said England's age-group coaches refuse to claim credit for the rapid progress of a host of youngsters who have graduated from junior ranks.
Instead he will keep working to give senior coach Lancaster an ever tougher selection brief.
"I just want the next group to be even better," said Fletcher.
"Our jobs in the system are to help develop players to give Stuart Lancaster more and more headaches. All of my time and energy is spent on that.
"I am delighted when they go on and do well. I've been a small part of their progress, which is great, but I'm quickly on to the next group to help them."