Alex Sanderson: "That’s the thing with Fordy, his skillset is unparalleled"

George Ford has returned to Sale Sharks after England head coach Steve Borthwick opted for Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith

The debate continues to rage on as to who should be the man to lead England into the 2023 World Cup as fly-half, leader and talisman.

The answer will go some way to describing how England intend to try and win such a tournament, but it is just as far from being answered as when it was first asked, prior to the 2020 Six Nations. It was ultimately what cost Eddie Jones his England position, and will define that of his predecessor, Steve Borthwick.

Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson gave his thoughts on Wednesday afternoon: “It’s tight, isn’t it? Faz (Owen Farrell) is one of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with, and when you back that up with his decision-making skillset, well, we’ve seen that haven’t we?

"Marcus Smith is the prodigal child, who isn’t even a child anymore. I don’t know if there’s anyone who can be as influential on quick ball going forward as him."

But Sanderson reserved the most gushing praise for his own fly-half, George Ford. The 29-year-old was not in the original Six Nations squad for England but has since been called in, including over the last fallow week, causing him to miss the table-topping Gallagher Premiership game between Sale and Saracens last Sunday.

However, Borthwick has stuck with Smith and Farrell for this weekend's meeting with France meaning Sanderson has his No.10 back at Carrington.

"The difference with Fordy, his overall skillset is unparalleled," Sanderson said. "He's a decent combination of the things I've mentioned about Faz and Marcus Smith. I want George to play for England."

After Smith's eye-catching performance against Exeter Chiefs last Saturday, reports have suggested the Quins fly-half will get the nod over Farrell for Le Crunch with Ellis Genge set to be handed the captaincy.

Sanderson can see why Ford was included in the latest England training squad, although admitted that it was 'frustrating' when players were taken from their clubs on non-international match days.

“Yes, it's frustrating," Sanderson added. "It's their (the RFU) prerogative. They pay their dues to get a 35-man squad, and all the owners, the PRL I guess it is, they signed up to it.

"So if you've signed up to it, you can't go back on that and say, ‘actually, this is frustrating’, because you've signed the deal and taken the money so it is just for us to deal with, but down the line it's like, 'Jesus, this is difficult.'

"I do believe England are trying to be as helpful as possible in teams being able to plan for who they get back, and prep for the weekend. I believe they're serving their own ends, for the most part, but why wouldn't you?”

Sanderson would have liked to have had Ford available last Sunday against Saracens, even though he admitted that the 29-year-old isn’t at his best form yet, having played only 111 minutes since returning from a ruptured Achilles sustained in last season’s Premiership final.

“He's one of the world's best players, as we know, on form, and it's our job to get him on form," Sanderson added. "If there's one thing he needs, it's game time so he'll feature to some capacity (this Sunday), yes.”

The game Sanderson was referring to is away at London Irish, where Sale will aim to back up the crucial victory over Saracens and take another giant stride towards not only a place in the play-offs but a home semi-final at that.

Ahead of that game, he provided an update on the Sharks’ other England internationals, saying that lock Jonny Hill, “is frustrated' with some of the elements he's been told to work on: "I think he's improved on that, but also, some of the focus that England have around the set-piece, he believes that he's fulfilling a lot of those requirements."

In the case of flanker Tom Curry - who will miss the rest of the Six Nations due to a hamstring injury - Sanderson commented: "He’s been out running today, but not fast."

If Sale were to secure the desired outcome at fifth-placed Irish on Sunday, they could seal a top-four finish before their final three games of the regular season where they take on Bristol Bears, Gloucester and Newcastle Falcons.