GEORGE Ford’s farewell appearance for Leicester Tigers in the biggest match of the domestic season proved a bitter-sweet experience.
The 29-year-old fly half from Diggle ruptured his Achilles tendon as Tigers defeated Saracens 15-12 in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final at Twickenham.
Ford, injured early in the match, was replaced by Freddie Burns who scored a dramatic drop goal in the dying seconds after the game appeared to be heading towards extra time.
“I knew what I had done and there was nothing I could do other than watch the game,” explained Ford.
“At least we won, but I have to say it is easier playing than watching.”
Ford, who underwent surgery at the end of June, will be out of rugby for six months which will delay his debut for Sale Sharks. It is the most serious injury of his career.
He said: “You cannot rush back from an injury like this so it looks like I will be back around Christmas/New Year.
“It means a delayed start at Sale which I am gutted about as wanted to get stuck in and hopefully influence them on the pitch. I am looking forward to playing for a club in the North for the first time in my career.
“Sale has a good squad of players, good coaches and my aim is to try and push them up the league. It is getting tougher each year as you have seen with four different teams winning the Premiership in the last four years.”
The injury also ruled Ford out of England’s squad for the three-match test series in Australia. The squad had been due to be named the day after he was injured and he had been hoping to be selected and add to his 84 caps.
Ford, a former pupil at Knowsley Primary, helped revive Tigers’ fortunes as they finished at the top of the Gallagher Premiership league before being crowned Premiership champions for a record 11th time and their first title for nine years.
It also marked a remarkable upturn in their fortunes as Tigers finished next to bottom in 2019 and 20 and sixth last season.
“To go from second bottom, when we were struggling, to champions in the space of two years was amazing,” explained Ford.
The revival has been spearheaded by Steve Borthwick who was appointed head coach in February 2020 while this season RL legend Kevin Sinfield, from Grasscroft, became Tigers’ defence coach.
Ford said: “Steve is very diligent and methodical. He doesn’t miss a trick, so you have always got half a chance.“We have a clear way of playing which is based on attitude, hard work and a little luck which you need. It has been a case of keeping things simple, there has not been major changes.”
Ford explained they had a game plan for the final which was to keep the scores close going into the final 15/20 minutes.
“When you look at how the game finished, you sometimes think it is meant to be your year. We didn’t play well for much of the semi-final against Northampton Saints but pulled away in the last 20 minutes,” he continued.
This was Ford’s fourth Premiership final and his other victory against Northampton Saints in 2013 came in his last match before a move to Bath. In that match he came off the bench to score 12 points.
Ford was also twice a beaten finalist in 2012 when Tigers lost to Harlequins and 2015 when Bath were beaten by Saracens.
It had been a hugely successful season for Ford individually as he collected the Gilbert Golden Boot at the Premiership Rugby Awards.
Ford amassed 193 points from 38 penalties, 38 conversions and one drop goal to finish eight points clear of London Irish’s Paddy Jackson.
The points helped Tigers finish top of the Gallagher Premiership for the first time since 2010-11.
Ford said: “I’m very proud to win the award. For kickers, all you try and do is your job for the team. Whenever a penalty or conversion comes along, you want to kick as many points as possible so the team is in a winning position.“That’s all I try and do. It’s more down to the boys winning the penalties and scoring the tries. I try to do my job after it.”
Ford’s move to Sale Sharks was driven by personal reasons as he is getting married in August to fiancée Addy whose family run Sorella, the Italian restaurant in Uppermill.
He and elder brother Joe, coach at Championship club Doncaster Knights, own Kobe Café in Uppermill which is run by Joe’s wife Connie.
The business is expanding, and a large glass conservatory has been erected at the rear of Kobe Café and the adjoining Sorella and which will be shared by both eateries. Sorella is also increasing the size of its restaurant.
Kobe will remain a café during the day but in the evening will become a Japanese restaurant.
The building work has been project managed by the brothers’ father Mike, the former top RL player and RU coach for Saracens, Bath and French club Toulon, who also lives in Diggle.