George Ford finds himself in the strange position on Saturday of being tasked with denting the play-off ambitions of the club he will rejoin in the summer and his England half-back partner, Ben Youngs, has warned Leicester to expect the Bath fly-half to do exactly that.
Ford has agreed to return to Welford Road at the end of the season – in a deal worth a reported £450,000 a year – but before that leads fifth-placed Bath to Twickenham where they face Leicester, who occupy fourth place, three points above them.
In Youngs’ words it is a “play-off for the play-offs” and the spotlight falls on both No10s with the Tigers’ Freddie Burns heading in the opposite direction to Ford next season, rejoining Bath where he played academy rugby.
“It is [a strange dynamic] but if I was to leave and I was playing against the club I was going to I’d want to play really well against them because I’d want them to know that they’d made the right decision,” Youngs said.
“You don’t want to be that guy who didn’t turn up against the club you’re going to. They are professional. Freddie wants to win for Leicester and go off in a fashion that is fit for him which is hopefully winning something and I’m sure George will be feeling the same, knowing him as I do.
“When you play with someone for a long time you do know their strengths and weaknesses but George has got many more strengths than weaknesses. There’s no hiding that George is key in giving them the space so there is a big emphasis in terms of putting George under pressure.”
Leicester have found some form of late and have won seven of their past nine matches since they were humbled 43-0 by Glasgow in the Champions Cup.
That run also includes victory in the Anglo-Welsh Cup final against Exeter, but off-field disruption is still all too apparent with Matt O’Connor arriving this week after the sackings this season of Richard Cockerill and Aaron Mauger, not to mention the defence coach, Scott Hansen, in October.
O’Connor, who returns to the role of coach he held between 2010 and 2013, has little time to ease himself in with Leicester determined not to miss out on the play-offs for the first time since 2004.
But Youngs concedes the Australian’s true impact will be felt next season, when players such as Matt Toomua and Manu Tuilagi are back to fitness, and Ford is dictating proceedings at fly-half.
“Naturally when you bring in any player of George’s calibre it’s very exciting for the squad,” Youngs said. “He’s the most professional player I’ve ever come across, the way he conducts himself and goes about his business. That will help drive other people.
“If an England player is out there for hours on end and your goal is to get to where he is then your goal has to be to train more than he does.
“It is a close of an era with Cockers gone and Scott and Mage, there’s going to be a new front of Leicester with Matt and different personnel but this squad is certainly more than capable.
“We want to achieve things this season and Matt can certainly help us achieve that. Next season, with all our bodies back and the new faces coming in, it bodes well.
“It’s rugby, you don’t really see coaches come and go as we’ve had. We’ve had three in one season which is rare but if that’s what it takes to get back to where we’ve been before then that’s what it takes.”