The Newcastle fly-half highlights the value of his former Leicester team-mate as Tigers face another tough season

Toby Flood: ‘George Ford is most important player in the Premiership’

After helping England to the World Cup final in Japan, George Ford’s next challenge is to help Leicester climb up the Gallagher Premiership table – and Toby Flood believes he is key to Tigers’ fortunes.

The only reason Leicester are not sitting rock-bottom right now is Saracens’ 35-point deduction for salary cap breaches. Tigers have won only one of their opening four league matches and have scored the fewest points (53) and tries (four) of any team.

They have also failed to pick up a losing bonus point in any of those three losses, which include a 36-11 defeat by newly-promoted London Irish in their most recent league match.

This weekend Tigers face a trip to arch-rivals Northampton, who are second in the table behind Bristol on points difference – not an ideal away fixture when you’re struggling.

George Ford is most important player in the Premiership

Guiding light: George Ford delivers a pass against Newcastle last season (Getty Images)

Former England fly-half Flood believes Leicester’s survival depends on the form of Ford, who was so crucial in their fight to avoid relegation last season.

“If you look at George Ford, he’s the most important player in Premiership now,” says Flood. “If he plays like he did last year, when he dragged them out of the mire… If not, Leicester could find themselves in real problems.

“He saved them last year. Those last five or six games were as good as I’ve seen from a ten on the back foot. He’s been on great form (at the World Cup) and he’s a big factor at Leicester.”

Ironically, in guiding Leicester to safety last season, Ford condemned his former team-mate Flood and Newcastle to relegation to the Greene King IPA Championship.

The change in fortunes at Welford Road is stark. They reached nine consecutive Premiership finals between 2005 and 2013, Flood captaining Tigers to victory in that 2013 climax, but last season they finished a lowly 11th in the table.

George Ford is most important player in the Premiership

Glory days: Mathew Tait and Toby Flood lift the Premiership trophy in 2013 (Getty Images)

That earlier period of success not only attracted players to the club but kept them there because they wanted to win trophies. Now they are struggling to appeal to the big names that were once drawn to Welford Road.

“They’ve lost a bit of depth,” says Flood. “Nine consecutive finals was an easy selling point, but they don’t have the same quality they had five or six years ago. They can’t pay players less any more because they’re not guaranteed to win.

“It’s hard to put your finger on it (why Leicester are struggling) but the Premiership has got better. It’s no longer two or three teams who can win it, but six teams.”

For the second straight season it looks like survival rather than silverware will be the focus for Leicester.

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