George Ford confident of England future despite snub – "Hopefully not too old"
The battle for England 's fly-half berth has rarely looked tougher for George Ford, but the Leicester Tigers leader figure knows time is on his side as he looks to reclaim his place in the international pecking order.
Red Rose chief Eddie Jones recently omitted the 77-cap veteran from his training squad ahead of the autumn internationals, one of several high-profile absences noted by fans.
Both Billy and Mako Vunipola were also left out of the squad, as were Saracens duo Jamie George and Elliot Daly following their involvement with the British and Irish Lions.
International selection is a particularly touchy topic at present, with only two years left until the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France and coaches already assembling their plans for that tournament.
But after guiding Leicester to the Premiership summit early on this season, Ford remains hopeful his club form will prove why, in turn, he belongs to be part of England's future plans.
"I'm 28 so I'm hopefully not too old, yet," joked Ford, who has won three Six Nations titles and was part of the England squad that finished as runners-up in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
"I feel in a great place. For any England camp, you want to be involved so I was obviously disappointed, but I'm loving my rugby at Leicester. I've had a good, consistent run of games and I'm part of a team that's going okay, so I'm really enjoying it.
"My goal is to keep on improving. As a 10, you have seen it many times before, where guys at the top of the game are coming to the best years of their careers in and around 30, because they have got that experience and learnt so many things along the way to be one of the world's top-class 10s.
"'I am excited about it. I am 28 and have played a fair bit of rugby up to this point but I am very confident that I can improve and get better."
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Ford has long battled for the No. 10 jersey alongside Saracens counterpart Owen Farrell, who has fulfilled a less natural centre role at times in order to accommodate the former at international level.
But the emergence of Marcus Smith as England's potential long-term answer at 10 has complicated matters.
Smith, 22, inspired Harlequins to last season's Premiership title before earning his first England caps in July, receiving a call-up for the Lions as injury cover that same week.
The emerging superstar was included in England's recent camp and has earned widespread calls for further involvement, but Ford remains focused on raising his own stock in Jones' estimations.
“Selection is always out of our control, that’s why Eddie’s in that job, that’s his job," he added.
“I’ve just got to look after my job and do it as well as I can, and hopefully good things will come off the back of that."
It's a plan that's succeeding as far as this campaign is concerned, with Tigers leading the Premiership as one of only two teams to have won their opening three fixtures.
Ford got one over Farrell after a contentious last-second penalty try saw Leicester edge Sarries 13-12 on Saturday, the latter's first loss since returning to the first tier this season.
Jones has still to decide on his squad for the upcoming autumn internationals against Tonga, Australia and South Africa, although many will expect both Smith and captain Farrell to be included.
That leaves limited room for an experienced option like Ford, though he hopes the best career of his form to date will help convince England he still deserves his seat at the table.
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