George Ford insists delivering a successful England team is the most effective way to attract and retain new fans as the game navigates a cycle dominated by defence.
A prosperous campaign has seen Eddie Jones’ men win the 2020 Six Nations title and Autumn Nations Cup back-to-back, in the process extending their triumphant run to eight Tests.
But in a trend evident in the wider game, the victories have been built on suffocating the opposition through a combination of defence, kicking and set-piece – at the expense of ambition in attack.
Ford last week compared possession of the ball in certain parts of the field to holding a “ticking timebomb”, resulting in the inclination to punt it downfield and apply pressure with a strong chase.
The 2,000 crowd present at Twickenham for Sunday’s 22-19 sudden-death victory over France booed one lengthy aerial duel and even former England captain Dylan Hartley has described the rugby played this autumn as “boring”.
When asked if the tactics being used is driving new fans away, Ford said: “I don’t think so, no. There are still opportunities in the game to attack and score tries.
“People can get excited about the defensive part of the game as well. You see players like Tom Curry and Sam Underhill consistently smashing people and that’s part of the game as well. In fact it’s a big part.
“The young guys coming through at grass roots level want to see a successful winning England team. That’s what we need to do to put a smile on their faces.”
At the end of an autumn in which England have born the brunt of complaints over the uninspiring rugby being played, Eddie Jones’ patience finally snapped as he blasted the critics as being “totally disrespectful” to his side.
Ford, Jones’ attacking mastermind, insists that for all the negative opinions swirling around the last five Tests, there is a conviction that the northern hemisphere’s undisputed champions are following the correct path.
“It’s just the cycle where the game is in. We understand it and want to put in a plan to make sure we win games,” the Leicester fly-half said.
“Ultimately that’s probably why we’ve won a few games recently. In terms of people’s opinions, they’re entitled to them.
“But we’re the guys that run out on the field and we prepare all week to do it so that we give ourselves the best chance of winning the game. We believe that’s the best way to do it. I know it can be frustrating for people watching the game.
“It’s fascinating in the sense it’s a patience game, it’s a game that requires a lot of control and composure, but at the same time you must be ready to take your opportunities in attack.
“Too much is being made about it to be honest. There’s a fair bit of it flying about but in terms of me individually as a fly-half, it’s fascinating the fact that there’s a lot of information, composure and control needed in your individual game to do the right thing.
“Against France we had a few opportunities to move the ball and challenge them in different ways, but just need to execute a little bit better on the edges.
“The more the game went on against France the better we got. We wanted to improve during this autumn and I think we have done.”