Fly-half George Ford has revealed that the upheaval at Bath which led to his father Mike being sacked last season and which contributed to his own decision to leave the club hit his dad “harder than I realised at the time”.
It also precipitated a chain of events which led to George phoning Mike again on Monday night after another parting of the ways, this time with Toulon, reassuring his father that in his eyes he was “the best coach in the world”.
It has been a turbulent 10 months for the Ford family, capped by the fact that George is preparing to help lead his team into action in front of a crowd of some 55,000 at Twickenham against Leicester, the very club he is rejoining at the end of the season.
The family pairing have always been close, Mike signing his son from Leicester four years ago as he looked to fast-track his progress into the international arena, a ploy that brought rich returns. And, much as both men are hard-nosed and meticulous professionals, the emotional strains and conflicted loyalties are clear to see. George’s admission was heartfelt.
“It does hit you,” said Ford last night. “From what we achieved here at Bath in two years and then for it to end like it did, that hit him quite a lot harder than I first realised. Dad is disappointed too [about Toulon]. We had a conversation [on Monday night] and I basically told him not to stop believing in his ability to coach. To this day he’s the best I’ve had.
“Sometimes you can get blinkered from a few setbacks and things not going the way you want them to go, even though you work unbelievably hard and sacrifice a lot. I don’t think he questions himself in terms of the way he is as a coach but, when you have a few setbacks, you probably have a look at yourself.
“He has been away from home and that has been tough for the family, for my mum, who’s been on her own. I think he’ll wait for the right thing for him now, whatever that is, someone that’s going to back him and give him a good shot at what he wants to achieve.
“It’s difficult. You don’t really have many of these sort of conversations. I speak to my dad all the time and he doesn’t quite express, probably, the way he could be feeling. When you have setbacks it’s human nature to question what you do and how you are about yourself.”
George will be a significant loss to Bath as they look to reassert themselves on the domestic scene. Masters of the land from the mid-Eighties through the next decade, the West Country side have not won a trophy in nine years. Yet Ford is hell-bent on rounding off his time at the club with silverware, given his tight-knit relationship with those he has played alongside for the past four years.
He revealed that most of the squad texted him to wish him best once he had sorted out his future, understanding that the nature of the business these days is turbulent. Ford kept his counsel on the reasons for his departure for Leicester, even from his team-mates, not all of whom would have empathised with the depth of feeling involved.
“Some do, some don’t,” said Ford. “What influences these things is what people hear, the specific reasons from external sources. That shapes their decision on it. No one will ever know the full reasons. You don’t go into it. The majority of the lads have been great.
“When it was announced, I was away with England. I’d spoken to a fair few of the lads before and they texted me, saying, ‘Congrats, we understand your decision’. The decision was made to go to Leicester and it’s done and dusted.’
Ford will be reunited with his England partner, Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs, next season and the close crossover of personnel between club and country was reflected in the fact that one of the first people Ford bumped into on a short break to Dubai with his girlfriend last week was Youngs.
There will be no split loyalties on Saturday. Bath are fifth in the Premiership, three points adrift of fourth-placed Leicester, who occupy the last of the play-off spots. There are four rounds to go, so whoever wins at Twickenham will be in the box seat.
Bath are on the cusp, rejuvenated after their worst league defeat in 15 years when losing to Saracens 53-10, having beaten Brive last weekend to go through to the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup. But this is crunch time.
“This is a big game in terms of the league shake-up,” said Ford, all too aware that chances to succeed come by infrequently, with Bath’s defeat in the Premiership final two years ago a case in point.
“Getting to the big occasions and not getting over the line is a horrible feeling. You want to look back on your career as being successful and you are successful by winning trophies, not by being top four or top six.
“I want to end this season being successful with this group of lads and make some memories.”