George Ford had Jannie de Beer and England team-mate Danny Care in his sights as he masterminded a stunning 27-10 victory over Argentina in their World Cup clash at the Stade Velodrome.
Steve Borthwick’s men entered the Pool D opener as underdogs for the first time in the history of the fixture yet emerged conclusive winners despite seeing Tom Curry sent off in the third minute for a dangerous tackle.
Confronted by crisis yet again – Curry was their fourth red card in six Tests – they responded defiantly by matching spirited defence with smart, on-the-hoof game management.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) September 10, 2023
Ford took command of an ugly spectacle by kicking the shambolic Pumas into oblivion, landing six penalties and three drop goals while intelligently steering his team around the field.
It was the drop goals – all landed in the second quarter – that infused England with belief and in the process evoked memories of when South Africa’s De Beer slotted a record five to boot them out of the 1999 World Cup.
But Ford joked that an internal rivalry also drove him on in a win that offers clear sight of the knockout phase.
“Jannie de Beer is the guy who got five in a game? I thought I was on track at one point. Five is incredible!” the Sale fly-half said.
“I’ve not kicked three in a game before. We were actually laughing in the changing room afterwards because Danny Care out of the squad was the guy with the most drop-goals for England (three).
“So I thought that’s not right, I need to put an end to that! Maybe that was the meaning behind this win!
“The crucial one was the third one that took us more than seven points ahead. That’s the life of a kicker sometimes. Some days you can’t hit a barn door, some days you can’t miss.
“In a game like this where it was dead greasy, it wasn’t going to be easy to hold the ball, move the ball and score tries. To get more than seven ahead was critical for us.”
Along with his fellow fly-halves Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith, Ford has been drilling drop-goals in training in the knowledge they could prove decisive in tight games at the World Cup.
“Marcus, Owen and myself, after every session we are doing drop goals. It’s part of what we do, it is part of our plan,” Ford said.
“We get the nines to pass us the ball and we get some guys to come over and put pressure on us. So we try and make it as realistic as possible.
“The thing with drop goals is when the opposition least expect it. It is to try and disguise it a little bit then you give yourself a little more time and space and hopefully try and kick it.”
“It’s such a crucial and critical weapon at times, especially when you see how influential they have been at World Cups.
“It’s something we have spoken about a tiny bit more, but the whole plan wasn’t about drop goals, it was just about imposing pressure and trying to come away with points in any way we can.”