TOKYO, 1 Nov - After being dropped to the bench for England's quarter-final clash with Australia, George Ford returned with an imperious display against New Zealand in the semi-final, producing one of his finest performances in an England shirt to show just how his guile and vision can unlock England's attacking potential against South Africa on Saturday night.
Not only did Ford maintain flawless composure to coolly slot home four of five penalty attempts to give England vital breathing space against the All Blacks, he was also one of his team's finest defenders.
His performance made a mockery of suggestions that at 1.75m tall and 87kg, he is too slightly built to take down marauding opposition giants. He was one of five England players to hit double figures for tackles, making 13 as England gave the All Blacks no room to breathe. A repeat display will be needed for success against a highly physical Springboks team.
To illustrate just how Ford sets England ticking, it is best to wind the clock back to his Player of the Match performances against USA and Argentina during the pool stage, two of the most influential by a fly-half at Rugby World Cup 2019. He scored a try and helped team-mates to tries in both games, kicked effectively, and passed and tackled successfully.
The below clips examine how Ford's eight kicks and 23 passes dictated the game against Argentina on 5 October.
England's first meaningful attack against Los Pumas began from a Ford restart, returned by Argentina to Elliot Daly who, along with Anthony Watson, made gains into opposition territory.
As the clip above shows, Ford was involved again. He moved to second receiver to pass to Daly, whose kick produced an England lineout deep in the 22. A minute later this attack ended with England's first try and a starring role for Ford.
In the next clip above, Ford's pass allows Watson to take England from around halfway into the Argentina 22. This begins a long passage of play that lasts two minutes. Again Ford is involved, as the clip below shows.
England have been camped on the Argentina line for some time and 20 phases have elapsed. Finally the ball comes out and Ford is on hand to put Daly in for the try, after a little ball-juggling.
Moving into the second half, an England scrum in the Argentina half produces an attacking opportunity, see above. Ford passes to Owen Farrell and then receives the ball back on the loop. Ford again passes to Daly, who puts Jonny May into a position to run deep into the 22. This attack continues with England moving from left to right and then back across to the left again.
Sam Underhill and Manu Tuilagi have taken the ball close to the Argentina line. When Ben Youngs takes the ball out of the ruck, Jamie George's presence has drawn the focus of the Argentina defence.
Benjamin Urdapilleta runs across to help stop the England man. The pass misses out the hooker though and goes to Ford. The gap between Matias Moroni and Emiliano Boffelli is big enough for Ford to score himself but even if it were to close quickly, he could put May in.
Ford goes for the space and finishes well to score England's fourth try, as three opponents descend on him. He is pictured, top, celebrating the try.
England do not score again with Ford on the field but he still has time for three outstanding kicks in just over two minutes of play. The first travels about 50m and goes into touch off the corner post. The second is cross-field to Anthony Watson around halfway and is claimed by the England winger, who is then forced into touch. The third is similar to the first but travels even farther to keep the pressure on Argentina in their own 22.
In recent years, Ford has repeatedly had to deal with doubts about his big-match temperament. He lost his position as England's starting fly-half for the first time before the final 2018 Six Nations match against Ireland and, despite starting the occasional game at 10, he was never first choice again until the warm-up matches before Rugby World Cup 2019.
Ford's performances in Japan, though, have surely dispelled such doubts for good. England are arguably at their most creative with Ford and Farrell's 10-12 partnership on the pitch, and Ford's form in Japan has shown just why.