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Leicester 24-15 Saracens, Aviva Premiership semi-final
Murphy hails Ford focus
May 12, 2012
Leicester's Geordan Murphy and George Ford react to their side's victory
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Players/Officials: George Ford | Geordan Murphy
Tournaments/Tours: Aviva Premiership

Leicester captain Geordan Murphy acclaimed teenage match-winner George Ford after he helped secure Tigers' eighth successive Premiership final appearance at Twickenham.

Ford, the 19-year-old son of former England defence coach Mike Ford, kicked four penalties and a conversion after replacing ankle injury victim Toby Flood in Leicester's 24-15 play-off victory over Saracens.

In addition to his priceless points from the boot, Ford also created both Leicester tries through slick passing that cut open a Saracens defence renowned for its Scrooge-like quality. Wing Alesana Tuilagi, on his final Tigers appearance at Welford Road before moving to Japan, touched down midway through the first half, while flanker Steve Mafi also crossed to thwart a Saracens side whose points came from five Owen Farrell penalties.

"George dug us out of a few holes today, but he has played like that in every game he has been involved in this season," Murphy said. "He works very, very hard, and he has bought into the team atmosphere. It is quite inspiring."

Ford's inclusion was the headline selection by Tigers, especially as they had named Flood on their official team sheet on Friday, but he did not let down a club in pursuit of its 10th league title.

"I am massively happy," Ford said. "Fair play to the boys, we dug in and worked for each other. We will give it our best shot at Twickenham."

Leicester slumped to 11th in the Premiership after their first six games this season, of which they lost five, but 14 subsequent victories and a draw saw them climb to just one point behind regular season leaders Harlequins. And it was Ford, current junior world player of the year, who showed admirable maturity to steer Leicester towards a Twickenham appointment with Quins on May 26.

Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill said: "George is a very good player. You want players like him to learn in a winning environment and see them come through, and we've tried to do that with George. Toby wasn't right today, as much as we tried, and George stepped up. He made the team tick pretty well, and I am delighted for him."

Saracens boss Mark McCall reflects on his side's defeat
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Ford will have a summer away from competitive rugby to work on his conditioning ahead of next term. And Cockerill added: "The best thing for George long-term is to have a pre-season to make him robust, leaving the guy at home to get some quality conditioning into him.

"If he kicks on again next season he won't have a summer at home again, will he? The relationship between myself and (England head coach) Stuart Lancaster, and the club and England is pretty good most of the time, so I think it is a sensible decision for both parties.

"Let's see how George develops. He has played a handful of Premiership games, but there is no rush. He has 15 years of rugby ahead of him. I am not too keen to push him too hard too soon. That can be detrimental sometimes. We will look after him, and when England want to pick him I will be delighted for him."

Reflecting on Leicester's dismal start to the season - and the subsequent transformation - Cockerill said: "Everyone at the club kept the start to the season in perspective. The expectation of Leicester is to be top of the pile, or thereabouts, and the start of the season was difficult for various reasons.

"If we get beaten we are going to be criticised, that is the nature of it." Saracens boss Mark McCall admitted his side had been punished for their failure to take chances, especially during the first half.

"It was one of those very tight games," he said. "Leicester are a top-class side, and while we had some opportunities, we did not take them. When you come to Welford Road you have got to take all your chances, but I was proud of the players' efforts. I think we have had a good season."

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