England fly-half George Ford has praised the impact of Jonny Wilkinson after the World Cup winner put on training sessions for the team.
Ford and his fellow 10 Owen Farrell, who will play alongside him at inside centre against Scotland, have been working with Wilkinson at England’s training headquarters in the build-up to Saturday’s Six Nations opener.
“To have someone like him come in and add something a little bit different for us as 10s has been brilliant. We’ve learned a lot from him,” said Ford.
“He’s just a great guy to have around and do different things with.”
Wilkinson, England’s record points scorer, retired from rugby in 2014 after winning 91 caps for his country.
He was brought into the England camp after an apparent chance meeting with new head coach Eddie Jones in a supermarket.
Ford said: “We turned up one night and Jonny had been there already, on the training centre, kicking balls. He looked like he’d been there a while, and he’s still got it.
“His work ethic was unbelievable, probably the best that there’s ever been. It does rub off on you, but it’s the type of practice he does, rather than the time he spends doing it.
“It’s not whether you’re out there for two hours, it’s what you get out of it, and that’s what he’s good at, coming up with little practices. Owen might take one thing away from it and I might take another.”
Ford used to cadge kicking lessons from Wilkinson as a child, when he would come into England training camps with his father Mike, who was defence coach under Martin Johnson.
“We come up with little skill games, games within games, coming out of the session feeling better about yourself and what you’re trying to achieve,” said the 22-year-old.
“Jonny’s very good at breaking things down, not making everything too outcome-based but coming out feeling good.
“He spoke to us about the influence we could have on the game with our composure and how we go about ourselves – he’s played in so many of these games, and to have a chat with him about that was great for me and Owen.”
Ford and Farrell are long-time friends and rivals for England’s number 10 shirt, with no decision apparently yet made on who will take place-kicking duties against Scotland.
As children, the two sons of rugby league legends would compete against each other when Wigan’s St Patrick’s school (Farrell) met Halifax’s Rishworth School (Ford).
When their fathers moved south to coach and play for Saracens, they shared a school in St George’s in Harpenden and lived 10 metres apart on the same Hertfordshire street.
Ford would sometimes do Farrell’s homework so the pair could spend longer practising, and he believes those bonds will help the pair at Murrayfield.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Ford. “We’re two guys who think about the game pretty similar, and we’re both used to playing 10 so we can help each other out in terms of managing the game, seeing where the space is and trying to get to that space.
“The understanding’s there, and we’ve played together in age groups many many times. Owen’s a great guy to play with in terms of his energy and communication so having him outside me will help me as a 10.”
Farrell, meanwhile, is determined to rekindle the enthusiasm of his nation’s support after the disappointment of England’s World Cup exit at the group stage.
He said: “Hopefully we can put in a performance to get them behind us.
“We’re excited about getting out there – I don’t know if they’re excited about seeing us out there or not, but hopefully after this weekend there’ll be something positive to talk about.
“Everyone’s talking about style and running rugby, but rugby’s about making decisions – if everything went the way you thought it was going to go, everyone would play this brilliant expansive game.
“Rugby gives you different pictures every time you look up, and what’s important is that we make as many correct decisions as we can.”