National coach says the Bath fly-half has earned the right to wear the colours of his country.
England coach Stuart Lancaster insisted now was the “right time” to bring George Ford into the Test squad after calling up the 20-year-old fly-half into his Six Nations training group.
The uncapped Bath stand-off, one of the rising stars of the English game, was included in a 35-man squad announced after Lancaster omitted Toby Flood, effectively ending the Leicester fly-half’s 60-cap Test career.
Leicester captain Flood is due to join French giants Toulouse at the end of the season.
And with Lancaster operating a policy of no call-ups for overseas-based players, save in “exceptional circumstances”, something he has yet to do in any case, the coach has decided there is much to be gained by giving Ford prolonged exposure to the Test set-up ahead of next year’s World Cup in England.
He also took the opportunity on Wednesday to bring in Northampton No 10 Stephen Myler on a temporary basis as well.
But it is Ford, coached at west country side Bath by his father Mike, the former England defence chief, who appears to be in pole position to challenge incumbent fly-half Owen Farrell ahead of the team’s Six Nations opener away to France on February 1.
Lancaster said the way Ford played for Bath against Leicester, his former club, in a 27-27 draw on Saturday secured his place in the England squad.
“The tipping point was George’s maturity in that game, I thought that was excellent,” said Lancaster.
“We’ve known about him for a long time. He had great development at Leicester and has had game time at Bath now.
“It’s the right time to see what he can do at a higher level.
“He’s got some competition with Stephen Myler coming in to train with the squad too.
“His tactical kicking game is excellent, he beats defenders, he defends well and he’s a good goal-kicker too.
“The senior figures at Bath have a huge amount of respect for his game understanding, and his maturity.”
Lancaster added: “Owen Farrell has the shirt at the moment so that’s George Ford’s challenge to show what he can do.”
As for calling time on Flood’s time at international level, Lancaster said: “I’m disappointed that Toby’s chosen to play in France next season.
“I tried to encourage him to stay at Leicester, but it’s a great opportunity for George to come in. Toby’s been great for us and I respect him and his decision.
“I’ve got a great relationship with him, but he understands our policy.”
However, Lancaster said the timing of his move in dropping Flood could benefit England in the long run.
“I would rather make the decision now at this point 20 months out from a World Cup to give someone like George Ford or Stephen Myler the chance to show what they can do now.”
Injuries to eight players have seen Lancaster make a raft of changes, with the likes of backs Ben Foden and Manu Tuilagi and forwards Tom Croft, Geoff Parling and Alex Corbisiero unlikely to feature at all in this season’s Six Nations.
Nut Lancaster has been able to welcome Brad Barritt back into the squad following the Saracens’ centre’s recovery from an ankle injury.
“Having Brad back is like having a new player in the squad, especially with all the injuries we’ve had,” said Lancaster, looking to go one better than last season’s second spot where England saw their bid for a Grand Slam end with a 30-3 thrashing by champions Wales in Cardiff.