Joe Ford and Doncaster Knights ready to welcome Owen Farrell and Saracens
There was a time when Joe Ford and Owen Farrell used to literally kick around together as kids so the Doncaster Knights backs coach does not need any introduction when it comes to preparing his side to potentially face the England captain.
Saracens arrive at Castle Park on Sunday and fly-half Farrell could make his first appearance for his club since they were relegated to the Championship.
It is a fascinating prospect, not least because, for all of Sarries’ glamour, unfancied Doncaster are in better form than them having won all five games so far.
Cornish Pirates stunned the former European champions on the opening day but – with England commitments finished – Saracens have gradually been bringing back their Test stars with Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Elliot Daly and the Vunipola brothers all featuring in Sunday’s 54-13 defeat of Bedford Blues.
“I’ve watched their last four games and up until last week it was a completely different side,” Ford said.
“Last week was the first time where – apart from Owen – everyone played and they obviously looked just like what you’d expect: a side that won the Champions Cup just two years ago.
"It’s been pretty difficult planning but the way they play they’re renowned for their high kicking game, putting teams under unbelievable pressure and then living off that.
"I don’t think they’ll go away from that – and they’ve just got the best in the world doing it! That’s the difference. But our boys are quite relaxed. They’re looking forward to it. These games you don’t have to do anything; they take care of themselves emotionally. There’s absolutely no pressure on us. It’s almost like let’s go out there with no fear and see what happens.”
Former Leicester Tigers fly-half Ford, 30, has long been aware of Farrell’s kicking talent and not just because his younger brother George is his England and Lions team-mate.
“When my dad (Mike Ford) coached Saracens, he signed Andy and we literally lived opposite each other in a cul-de-sac,” he recalled, referring to Wigan and Great Britain rugby league captain Andy Farrell’s cross-code switch in 2005.
“Our houses faced each other so, for a year or so, me, George and Owen were a real close group. We grew up together, went to the same school and did all our kicking together.
“We’ve always known each other, even growing up playing rugby league in Oldham and Wigan.
“It’s just such a shame there’ll be no fans here. You can imagine, with Owen maybe teed up and all those British Lions in there, it would be an incredible occasion.”
That said, Doncaster are still ready to put on a show.
“We’ve looked at Saracens but if you started worrying about them you wouldn’t sleep at night,” said the ex-Leeds Carnegie player, who joined Steve Boden’s coaching team last year.
“We will suffer like you wouldn’t believe at the weekend in terms of defending our own line, the kick pressure they will put on us etcetera, and it is going to come down to our fight.
“But one thing we’ve shown in the last five games is that we have got that. And we’re not anywhere near our best yet.”