England are getting the band back together for Samoa clash

George Ford and Owen Farrell first caught the attention of Steve Borthwick at the 2007 World Cup as kids following their fathers around the pitch… sixteen years later, they’re playing together for England again

  • England face Samoa in final World Cup pool match on Saturday afternoon
  • Steve Borthwick’s side have already qualified for the tournament’s quarter final
  • Mail Sport’s new WhatsApp Channel: Get the breaking news and exclusives here 

It was during England’s dogged run to the 2007 World Cup final that Steve Borthwick first cast eyes on George Ford and Owen Farrell.

Borthwick, a second row at the time, immediately spotted their passion as they followed their fathers around the training pitch.

Sixteen years later they are back together. Borthwick has graduated to head coach and picked Ford and Farrell together for the first time since 2021 for Saturday’s game against Samoa.

‘You’d see them around the hotel and playing rugby and you saw, even back then, the passion they had to be playing for England,’ said Borthwick.

‘They couldn’t get enough of it. You could see how close they already were in developing a relationship and it’s continued to develop. To have them both playing together in the same team is really exciting.’

England will field George Ford (left) and Owen Farrell (right) together for the first time since 2021 in their final World Cup pool match against Samoa

Steve Borthwick’s side have already qualified for the quarter final and will use Saturday’s fixture to prepare for a probable knockout game with Fiji

England are laying foundations for the knockout stages, opting for the tried-and-tested. It is the same stadium where they cut loose against Chile, but the tactics could be very different. England will tighten up as the competition progresses, reflected by the decision to leave Marcus Smith on the bench and Henry Arundell out of the 23, despite his five tries against the South Americans.

Ford reminisced about his days returning balls to Jonny Wilkinson at Twickenham, while Farrell could pass the iconic No 10 as the country’s all-time leading points scorer.

‘He’s chasing down probably the best English 10 in history and he’s one kick away from surpassing that, which is incredible from Owen’s point of view,’ said Ford. ‘The biggest thing is how consistent you’ve got to be to give yourself an opportunity to do that. Owen will say himself that he doesn’t play the game to break records. He’s going to do something special over the weekend. All of the boys will be chuffed for him if and when he does it.’

Saturday will be the 14th time the playmakers have started together and the eighth time they will combine with Manu Tuilagi. They also played together at youth level and Ford expects muscle memory to kick in as they prepare to face a physical but out of form Samoan side.

‘It’s more of a feel and awareness thing really,’ said Ford. ‘You don’t want to be too scripted or structured. You just want to be flexible in the way you’re playing, that’s the thing about playing together so many times.

Ford spoke highly of long-term team-mate Farrell prior to England’s clash with Samoa

‘Sometimes it’s not even communication, it might just be a bit of eye contact. When Owen finds himself at first receiver that’s a trigger to go a bit further out and vice versa. I’d love to tell you it is more complicated and there is a special ingredient but there’s not. Even though it’s a bit of time since we played together, the understanding and connection will be as strong as it’s ever been.

‘Not having done it for a period of time could benefit us because it sharpens you up a bit. We’ve been having discussions all week about that combination, whereas when you’ve been doing it you probably take it for granted.’

They will combine in a backline featuring Joe Marchant, who starts on the wing having been one of the team’s most effective carriers and kick-chasers. England are likely to launch their aerial assault off the back of a dominant pack, boosted by the return of Tom Curry from suspension. The flanker will combine with Courtney Lawes and Ben Earl in the back row in what looks like England’s strongest XV.

‘You have this incredible blend of back rows who move so well and cover the ground so well,’ said Borthwick. ‘What you have seen in this tournament is that players who have speed and footwork dominate collisions. It’s been paramount. It’s great to have these three back together again.’

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