Saturday, November 27, 2021

Why George Ford gave up the market-leading Leicester Tigers for Sale Sharks

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The Fly-half has signed a three-year deal with the Northwest Club that gives them a return home and great options for the future

On the face of it, with the Premiership table in front of you, Ford, 28, is leaving an up and coming club in Leicester to one engaged in an intimate battle for national impact.

George Ford’s move from Leicester Tigers to Sale Sharks next summer is one of the biggest moves in professional-era English rugby – with Manu Tuilagi, who made the same move last summer. And there are several factors that are common to both stories, and some that differ in fascinating ways.

Leicester have had a lean couple of years for their spectacular standards, but they are now unbeaten at the top of the Premiership, while Sale is 20 points behind at eighth pace.

Steve Borthwick is getting great results as rugby director at Leicester, while his Sale colleague Alex Sanderson has an inconsistent team, albeit hampered by injuries and unavailability.

There will be no relegation from the Premiership for at least the next two years, but with a possible Club World Cup around the corner, standstill could mean falling backwards.

And maybe not everything is as simple as it seems in this table. Will Borthwick and his rigid schedule last after the 2023 World Cup in Leicester or will he have an international job until then? Are Sale and the imaginative Sanderson with their big players like the Curry twins on long contracts and the planned stadium purchase actually a more attractive long-term bet – despite the digs over their comparatively modest support base included in the Tigers’ statement on Wednesday.

The financial implications are complex. Ford will reportedly earn £ 1.6 million gross from the three years of this sales deal. It is understood that Leicester offered him more to stay, but the security in the length of the deal can be substantial.

In any case, even top earners aren’t armed for life when it’s time to hang up their boots – even those like Ford, who have danced through a steep career and danced to the point.

This deal through 2025 leaves scope for at least one more payday in Japan or France.

From a club perspective, everyone in the Premiership is juggling salaries below a squad cap, which has been reduced from £ 6.4million to £ 5million this year. In addition, the number of “marquee” players who can be paid outside the cap will drop from two to one in the next season.

Fly-half AJ MacGinty leaves Sale while Leicester signed fly-halves and / or utility picks with Freddie Burns, Dan Lancaster, Bryce Hegarty and Juan Pablo Socino in the summer.

Also think about some details of human interest. Ford returned to Leicester from Bath in 2017 and his father Mike followed him to Welford Road as an assistant coach in 2018-19. But Ford Sr. was shown the door after Borthwick’s arrival in the summer of 2020, eliminating a daily partnership the Fords also enjoyed as coach and player in Bath, and together making it to the 2015 Premiership Final.

And George is a boy from Lancashire. He has always played for other clubs – including Leicester, initially from 2009-2013 – but he has a coffee shop with his brother Joe in their hometown of Saddleworth, near Oldham, and their mother Sally-Anne lives in the area .

The national question is the other point of interest. Ford was omnipresent in the English roster under Eddie Jones until he left the current fall series.

This allowed Ford to focus on Leicester in the first two months of the season, with impressive results: leading the Premiership points table with 107 points and helping the Tigers to make a second attempt together with 31 in eight games.

Even if the maturation of Marcus Smith at Harlequins Jones has resulted in a fly half with arguably deeper playing characteristics, the national team is only one injury or suspension away from possibly needing the experience of Ford’s 77 internationals.

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