GEORGE Ford has warned Wales he is not England’s weak link as he steels himself for the onslaught he knows is coming at the Millennium Stadium tonight.
The rookie Bath stand-off has the vision to unlock Wales when the RBS Six Nations opens in Cardiff, but his light frame means doubt persists over his defence, despite solid outings against Samoa and Australia in the autumn. British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts will be the main battering ram directed at Ford, but roaming wings George North and Alex Cuthbert, as well as the home back row, are sure to test his courage.
As the likely focal point for the Welsh power game, the 21-year-old Ford is ready to roll up his sleeves to halt the heavy traffic coming down his channel. “I know what’s coming. It happens in most matches you play as a 10 – you get targeted,” said Ford, who will be making only his third Test start.
“They look for you defensively and want you to make tackles. It’s something you expect and prepare for. They want you to make as many tackles as possible to take other aspects of your game away, whether that’s your attack, kicking game or game management.
“I like that part of the game – I like the responsibility of making my tackles because I want to contribute in defence as well as attack.”
Ford has been among the beneficiaries of Hymns and Arias being played at full volume over the loudspeakers during training at the squad’s Pennyhill Park base on Wednesday in preparation for the noise and passion that await at the Millennium Stadium. England have insisted on the roof not being closed, opting not to fall into line with the wishes of Wales in the hope of diluting the hostile atmosphere that will greet their attempt at making a triumphant start to the Six Nations. Only eight of the matchday 23 have played in the Welsh capital before and Ford, who shoulders the goalkicking duties on his first visit to Cardiff, is grateful for the meticulous preparation.
“It was good training with the speakers on. They were obviously very loud, but it was definitely something we needed to do because of the atmosphere and noise that will be there on Friday night,” he said. “Communication will be massive so to practise under those conditions will definitely be worthwhile. I’m glad we did it. I’m excited about this game, about playing in front of a passionate Welsh crowd. We’ll try to quieten them as much as we can.
“I haven’t really thought about the goalkicking aspect. Either way, you’ve still got to kick and go through your pre-shot routine. You’ve still got to get the ball through the posts so whether it’s loud or quiet, it shouldn’t really affect you anyway.”
Ford will look to unleash Bath team-mate Jonathan Joseph on Wales with England opting for the in-form but inexperienced outside centre to partner Luther Burrell in midfield. “Jonathan has been world-class in attack and his defence has been brilliant as well – he leads that at the club,” Ford said. “Jonathan has that ability to create something out of nothing with an outside break or his off-loads with one hand. There aren’t many players around who can create things like that and to play with him is massively exciting.”
• The countries have met on 125 occasions. England lead the series 57-56, with 12 draws.
• Wales’ record win was a 30-3 victory in Cardiff two years ago, while England boast a best of 62-5 in a 2007 World Cup warm-up game at Twickenham.
• The last drawn Test between Wales and England produced a 13-13 scoreline in Cardiff 32 years ago.
• Wales skipper Sam Warburton will win his 50th cap tonight, while prop Samson Lee makes a Six Nations debut.
• Wales centre Jamie Roberts starts his 26th successive Six Nations Test tonight – a sequence that stretches back to 6 February, 2010.
• Three England players will make their Six Nations debuts this evening – wing Anthony Watson, centre Jonathan Joseph and lock George Kruis.
• Wales have more combined caps in their pack than England possess in their entire starting line-up.
• England forward Nick Easter will feature for the first time in Test rugby since the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals if he appears off the bench tonight.
• Wales field 11 survivors from the starting XV that inflicted a record defeat on England in Cardiff two years ago, while England return with only five of their team.
• Wales have lost just one of their past nine Six Nations games at the Millennium Stadium.