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George Ford ‘proud’ of Six Nations displays after silencing England critics

George Ford of England passes the ball during the Six Nations match against France

George Ford insists he is proud of his efforts throughout this season’s Six Nations, despite a difficult start to the tournament amid stiff competition for the England fly-half berth.

The 31-year-old believes there is far more to come from Steve Borthwick’s side as they face up to summer Tests against Japan and New Zealand, though Ford will first bid to steer Sale Sharks into the Premiership play-offs.

After Owen Farrell had stepped back from the international game in the wake of the World Cup, the Six Nations began with Marcus Smith and Fin Smith pressing hard for involvement for England against Italy. Before Marcus Smith suffered a calf injury in training, it is understood that he was in line to start in Rome, with Fin Smith among the replacements.

Ford, however, who had been suffering from a knee issue himself, was handed the No 10 jersey. This was in spite of Sir Clive Woodward urging Borthwick to “let the handbrake off” and to allow either of the Smiths to impart an “unpredictable, fast and aggressive attacking game”.

As it happened, Ford retained the starting role for five consecutive games. England ousted Italy and edged past Wales. While they faltered at Murrayfield, a fine win over Ireland and a stirring display in defeat against France, with Ford superb, ended the Six Nations on an optimistic note.

“I’m proud of all of it, to be honest with you,” Ford said. “I appreciate that sometimes the only thing people see is the 80 minutes at the weekend. There’s 10,000 minutes in the week where you’re preparing to play at the weekend. It’s nobody’s fault, but nobody knows what it takes and what you put yourself through to be as good as you can be as an individual but also influencing the team as well. I’m proud of all of it.

“We played some good stuff in the last two games but I’m proud that as a young team, which has changed vastly from the World Cup, we found a way to win in the first couple of games. The middle game against Scotland was hugely disappointing, don’t get me wrong, but I’m very proud of the response to that as well.

“With how the team changed, and the new changes in camp and the different dynamic, the way we navigated the Six Nations and came through at the end was something for us all to be proud of.”

Aiming for third straight Premiership final

Sale are currently in sixth place, but host Leicester Tigers on Friday knowing that any sort of win will take them, temporarily at least, above Bristol Bears and Harlequins and into the top four. A victory over Ford’s old club would also ensure that Sale reach the final round, a visit to Saracens, with a shot at the play-offs.

Alex Sanderson’s side are motivated by the desire to give a happy send-off to Manu Tuilagi, who is bound for Bayonne this summer. And Ford, having reached the past two Premiership finals with Leicester and Sale, relishes this time of year.

“You’re coming to that stage where you’re playing in do-or-die games,” he said. “It focuses your attention and it enthuses me. It excites me and gives me energy because of what’s at stake and the consequences off the back of it.

“We’re in that position now. We’ve got two games of the Premiership left and we understand what we have to do. We’re going to have to win two and go and play well. But the bigger picture for us is that we don’t just want to scrape through those games just to make the top four. We want to go beyond that as well.”

Beyond the end of the domestic campaign, England will travel to face Japan in a rendezvous with Eddie Jones before a two-Test series against New Zealand. Ford believes that the squad will travel with confidence.

“As an England team, the way you see the lads performing week-in week-out for their clubs, and the way they performed especially towards the end of the Six Nations means I think there’s loads to be excited about,” he said.

“I honestly think there’s a lot more in that team as well. Maybe we’re at the start of the journey but we feel we’re going in the right direction.”

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