England v South Africa: 'George Ford has moved out of Owen Farrell's shadow' - Paul Grayson
|Rugby World Cup final: England v South Africa|
|Venue: Yokohama International Stadium Date: Saturday, 2 November Kick-off: 09:00 GMT|
|Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.|
You start three World Cup games, playing well. You're dropped. You're out of the team, then you get recalled. You play better than ever before.
England head coach Eddie Jones has ripped up the script when it comes to George Ford this World Cup - and it has turned out to be a masterstroke.
The fly-half was named man of the match as he combined with captain Owen Farrell at inside centre to help England to victory in their final pool game against Argentina.
Two weeks later, in England's first World Cup knockout match for eight years, Ford was on the bench as Farrell took his place at fly-half.
Ford is only 26. A lot of people at that age would struggle with such uncertainty in their role, but his performance after being reinstated to the starting XV for the semi-final against New Zealand was testament to his mental strength.
Surely that will be enough to get him a starting sport for Saturday's final against South Africa? If it is, former England fly-half and BBC Radio 5 Live pundit Paul Grayson believes Ford can reach even greater heights.
"There is no doubt George Ford will have an influence on the World Cup final," Grayson said.
"South Africa will come with an almost hysterical physicality. Confrontation is not the way to overcome them, so they will need the guile, vision and class of Ford and Farrell's partnership at some point.
"It could be the key to England winning the final."
The long and winding road to World Cup glory
The World Cup quarter-final against Australia was not the first time Jones has changed Ford's role. Over the past year, the Leicester playmaker has started at 10 for England eight times and come off the bench on nine occasions.
During this year's Six Nations, Jones preferred Farrell at 10 with Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi in the midfield, but looked to have switched to a combination of Ford, Farrell and Tuilagi for the World Cup.
Ford has been on this journey with another coach too. He was a regular starter before the 2015 World Cup, but was dropped by former England coach Stuart Lancaster for pool games against Wales and Australia.
More recently, Ford started at fly-half in England's first two Tests against South Africa in June 2018, before being replaced by Danny Cipriani for the final match after the side were beaten twice.
Undeterred, Ford has always strived to be better - he spent the rest period that followed last season coming up with a detailed plan to improve - and Grayson says he has come back stronger.
"He's 26 but he's been around men's rugby since making his debut for Leicester at 16 years old," Grayson added.
"When I first saw him play, he played with the freedom you would expect of someone that age, unencumbered by expectation or nerves.
"That went away. That bright, shining light disappeared for a couple of years with some setbacks. I see that back now with the way that he's playing.
"Now he understands the game. I see the same instinctive, comfortable play that the unfettered mind of a breakthrough 17-year-old superstar has.
"That's a hard thing to get back when you've lost it."
'George has moved out of Owen's shadow'
Despite these setbacks, Ford and Farrell have formed a formidable partnership, playing together at 10 and 12 more than any other duo in top-tier internationals since the last Rugby World Cup.
The Ford-Farrell axis was a big factor in England's 2016 Grand Slam victory and could yet be part of the national side winning a second World Cup.
It would be a childhood dream come true for two friends who used to play rugby on the street together when they were neighbours as kids.
The older of the two, Farrell has often stolen the limelight since those days - but Grayson believes the way Ford has coped with this and continued to contribute to England's success shows the faith he has in Jones' plan.
"Coaches, like anybody else, don't always get it right, but they think as hard as anybody in the world about their jobs and about the right way to do things," he explained.
"If a coach is true to his word on what you have to do to get into their team, or what role they want you to fulfil, it creates and maintains trust.
"Ultimately, you want to start every game and play 80 minutes. As a goal-kicker you want to kick all the goals, guide your team and write the headlines.
"The fact that George has taken it on the chin and accepted what happened in the quarter-final, then come back and played as well as he did in the semi-final tells me that he's incredibly mature and has a good relationship with Eddie Jones and the rest of his team-mates.
"Now, when George and Owen are on the field together they're equally as important. George has moved out of Owen's shadow."