Doncaster Knights v Ealing Trailfinders - Joe Ford focused on coaching as professional rugby union returns to Yorkshire

Joe Ford in training (Picture: Rod Wetton)Joe Ford in training (Picture: Rod Wetton)
Joe Ford in training (Picture: Rod Wetton)
Today will be a strange experience in more ways than one for Doncaster Knights backs coach Joe Ford, writes Dave Craven.

It is the first time he will be involved with the club on a matchday – despite joining as long ago as last April – but also it will be his first time purely as a coach and no longer a player.

Ford is still only 30 but the former Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints fly-half retired 12 months ago after leaving his player-head coach role at Yorkshire Carnegie.

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He quit to concentrate on ‘business activities away from rugby’ but was employed by Doncaster three months later after new head coach Steve Boden took over at the Championship club.

Obviously, the competition had already been halted by that point due to the coronavirus pandemic – and it still has not restarted.

However, barring any later hiccup – as occurred a week ago when Saracens’ visit to Castle Park was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak at the former European champions – they will take part in the Trailfinders Challenge Cup this afternoon against Ealing Trailfinders.

Rarely has a pre-season friendly merited such enthusiasm from all involved.

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On that prospect, with the ‘2020-21’ campaign not due to start until March, Ford said: “It’s exactly what the players need.

“We started training in November. You come back in after so long off and, obviously, there’s a buzz for a certain number of weeks.

“But the longer it goes on, when there’s no announcements about the league starting etcetera, there’s nothing to play for. We could see as a staff, as a coaching group, that the players were starting to plateau off because it is tough just training every week with no end goal.

“This (Cup competition) lifted the players. Obviously last week’s (cancellation) wasn’t ideal but it is what it is and hopefully Saturday goes ahead as the players need a game after ten months – and we need to see them in action. Training has always been for playing so we’re looking forward to it.”

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Ford, whose younger brother George will begin the Six Nations with England next week, has loved the opportunity to start his coaching career in earnest at the South Yorkshire club.

But has he any regrets about quitting as a player so early?

“No, I’ve not to be honest,” insisted Ford, who perhaps was destined for a career in this field given his father Mike is a former England and British Lions defence coach. “At the moment, touch wood, I’ve not felt like I’ve wanted to carry on playing.

“I’m really enjoying it here. It’s brilliant. I’ve been blown away with how well the club’s run and the facilities and everything else here at Donny.

“Yes, it’s strange times but I’m just taking it day by day and enjoying it.

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“Bodes has been great with me and given me a big role in the attack and obviously I’ve got the backs to take care of...

“I’m learning every day which is the main thing.

“This is my first game as just a coach and it will be strange. But I’m just looking forward to seeing them go and getting a better understanding of how they go.

“You always think they look good in training but as soon as the whistle goes it’s a different game isn’t it?”

Boden, who coached Ford in the second of his three spells at Carnegie, could give as many as 16 debuts today in his re-fashioned squad.

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A familiar name will captain the side – veteran lock Matt Challinor – and asked who to look out for in the newcomers, Ford mentioned a couple of names. “There’s been a number of the backs who’ve been in the Championship for a number of years, like (centre) Mark Best, who was at Jersey,” he said.

“He’s one to look out for from a backs point of view and we’ve got a young kid from Wasps called Tom Bacon at full-back. He’s looked really good in training so I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes, too. But, to be honest, they’ve all looked good. I can’t wait to see them all.”

After almost 11 months out of action, that sentiment will be echoed by so many across the entirety of the rugby union fraternity.