Expert Witness: Charlie Hodgson unpicks the fly-half battle between George Ford and Owen Farrell in Premiership final

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

With Leicester Tigers meeting Saracens on Saturday in the Premiership final, the subplot sees two schoolboy pals and world class fly-halves, George Ford and Owen Farrell, go head to head in an individual battle that well may dictate the outcome of the match.

Former Saracens, Sale Sharks and England fly-half Charlie Hodgson is an admirer of the pair and was quick to point out that both players bring very different qualities to the number 10 shirt.

“I think you can liken the difference between George and Owen as similar to the contrast between Jonny Wilkinson and myself,” he observed.

Owen has those great qualities of defence, world class goal-kicking and structure, with the ability to create energy for his side through sheer determination and leadership. George is very much more attacking minded, with the ability to create something from nothing and to switch the focus of attack very quickly.

Different styles

“Both bring very different things, but they fit in wonderfully well to the style of the teams they play within. It’s impossible to say who is better, and that argument applies also to Marcus Smith as the other outstanding outside half.

“When you play at 10, there’s so many other things that will define the style of play that you want to deliver – it might depend on the type of scrum-half you’re playing with, or the type of centres outside you. It might be those centres are more ball carriers than ball handlers, so a good 10 will adapt, both to the resources he has around him but also to the type of game the coaching team want the team to deliver. In short, to say, black or white, who is best, is wrong – they both have deep skillsets that they bring to their respective teams,” concluded Hodgson.

Looking back at the Tigers v Northampton Saints match, Ford himself saw a change very early in the match when Leicester lost their big ball carrying Dan Kelly in the second minute, with a fly-half, Freddie Burns replacing him at 12. Adapting to change is a big part of the fly-halves’ game and Hodgson was impressed with how Ford dealt with things.

“With an attack-minded side like Saints in full flow, Freddie Burns acting as a 12 gave Tigers another clearing and kicking option – the ability to find touch or grass when under pressure. It makes a difference how you’ve trained and arranged and a change like this will turn the dynamic.

“George reacted really well to those changes and made some very quick decisions to how Tigers needed to play without Kelly. It’s a simple thought process – how did we want to play? Do we have the players to play that way? And if not, do I need to adapt and change the game plan to fit the players now in the team?

“Looking to Saturday, the DNA of both teams is simple – a great defence, a great set-piece and a pressuring kicking game. Given the forecast and the occasion I think we’ll see a little more kicking than we’ve seen in the semi-finals, and it’ll be key to see how the sides react and how patient they are when the chances to score arrive naturally.

“Interestingly, both teams have some real experts under the high ball – Freddie Steward and Harry Potter for Tigers and Sean Maitland and Alex Goode for Saracens. When you have quality like that it becomes a patience game – who is going to crack first, who is going the make the error?

“There’s so many things that define a great kicking game, but one thing often overlooked is that, just as a flowing running game, you need a great platform in the set-piece and breakdown to get yourself on the front foot to execute that co-ordinated kick-chase style. As a simple example, that breakdown dominance might mean that the opposition are putting an extra man into the tackle zone, leaving gaps elsewhere to find grass or to pressure the air. There’s loads more variable than you think rather than just the backline chase – it’s about reacting to what’s in front of you and being aware of the changing game in front of you.

“The absolute key to success is ensure it’s a ‘full commitment’ from the team to every kick or decision you make – the team reacting to your decision can define whether or not it’s a good decision – and both Sarries and Tigers do things with commitment and speed- which causes a lot of pressure on the defence,” Hodgson noted.

“For Tigers to succeed, it’s key to start well. Ellis Genge has gone on record again this week as saying they have to hit their straps early, not start slowly and claw it back in the second half as they did versus Saints. We have two immense packs and two very well motivated teams, but for me, the differentiator is the experience of the Saracens pack, and in particular, their experiences of big finals. These guys have been together a long time, played in some of the biggest finals (with and against) and have both won and lost together, gaining experience of those big moments together.

“Leicester have had a great 18 months but, compared to Saracens, they’re still at the beginning of their journey. Sure, topping the Premiership table is an incredible achievement and in Steve Borthwick, they’ve a top class coach. But I can’t help but think the relative final experience between the two sides works in Saracens’ favour.

“I know that all the neutrals will be shouting for Leicester Tigers, but Saracens thrive on their pantomime villain status and will relish the vitriol. However, whilst I know there’s the emotional part that the rugby fan would love to see a Tigers win, the logical part of my mind says that Saracens will be very difficult to beat and I fully expect them to be incredibly tough to break down.”

BT Sport is the home of Gallagher Premiership Rugby. Watch Leicester Tigers v Saracens in the 2022 final live on BT Sport 1 from 2pm this Saturday. For more info go to their website.

READ MORE: Premiership final preview: Saracens to edge Leicester Tigers for sixth league title

 

The article Expert Witness: Charlie Hodgson unpicks the fly-half battle between George Ford and Owen Farrell in Premiership final appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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