Can George Ford’s return to fitness mask England’s Manu Tuilagi-shaped hole in their attack against Ireland?

Ford’s return not only brings an extra dimension in attack, with the Leicester stand-off among the most visually aware players in the game, but also adds a voice of clarity to a side that has at times lacked the direction needed to fight its way out of testing circumstances.

“Fordy is an unbelievably talented rugby player, and when you have that experience coming in and the way he directs a team around the field, he comes in and you hear that communication and you see the way the players take it,” Proudfoot said.

“That is great. To see him coming in with the attitude to really stake a claim for himself, he is pushing hard to try and get into the 23. When a player with that experience has that mindset, it is a great asset. That is replicated throughout the week with other players. Everybody is pushing hard to try and get on that team list.”

Ford stressed that he’s ready to go after recovering from a “niggling” Achilles injury that had been affecting him for some time, with his ankle “feeling as good as it has ever done” after returning to full training on Wednesday. The England camp will be praying that is the case on Saturday given an important aspect of their last three victories over Ireland has been the impact of their tactical kicking behind the back three. Together with Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly, Ford has been able to pin back the Irish and force errors, which helped to produce two tries in the 2019 Six Nations victory and two more again in 2020.

But, he stresses, that does not come down to smart tactics and clever kicking. “It’s funny because the kicking game gets spoken about a lot, but it’s actually the intent to run first with ball in hand that opens kicking space up,” he added.

“So we need to get momentum, get speed of ball and have options across the field to get the ball into space at the right time and manipulate the backfield, and that’s pretty much the order it goes in really. It’s not a case of ‘right let’s go try find space in the backfield’ from the very off, there’s a process to doing it.

“We need to make sure that our detail in attack, plus our intent and our breakdown is probably better than ever before because obviously Ireland are very good at the breakdown too.”

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