MISSING out on the play-offs was a bitter pill to swallow for George Ford but a first England start against New Zealand this summer could prove just the tonic for the Bath fly-half.

Ford and co slipped out of the top four on the final day of the season after losing to Harlequins at the Stoop but the margins could not have been closer – if the 20-year-old’s last-gasp drop goal had gone over Bath would have advanced at the expense of the Londoners.

Bath’s season is still not over with the Amlin Challenge Cup final against Northampton Saints this Friday but missing out on the Premiership final does at least mean Ford will be available for England’s first Test in New Zealand.

Owen Farrell however, will not after Saracens booked their place at Twickenham, opening the door for Ford, who won his first two caps off the bench during the Six Nations, to wear the No.10 jersey for the first time.

“If I get the opportunity to start for England I’d love to do that, don’t get me wrong, going out there is going to be tough playing New Zealand in their own backyard three times,” said Ford.

“But one that this team is looking forward to and one this team needs I think to test ourselves against the best and to try and stamp our authority down a little bit as well. I think the boys are ready for that.

“It’s just competition for places, you want that for your club and you want that for your country as well. The guys sticking their hands up this year there’s loads of them in the fly-half position, and others as well, and it’s only good for the individuals.

“You’ve got to keep getting better and performing at weekends to make sure you’re in the frame for selection so it’s only going to help.”

Ford’s stock has risen throughout the season, featuring in 21 of their 22 Aviva Premiership matches and playing a key role in their Amlin Challenge Cup campaign, justifying his decision to leave Leicester and join dad Mike at the Rec.

At last weekend’s Aviva Premiership Award Ford was nominated for The Land Rover Discovery of the Season award, presented to the best player aged 23 years or under, losing out to Saracens No.8 Billy Vunipola but he didn’t leave empty-handed, picking up the Gilbert Golden Boot gong.

But Ford refused to take the credit himself, insisting his teammates deserve just as much praise as he does.

“It’s a great feeling, it’s a massive honour to be a part of that group of players and I think it’s just a reflection of how well the lads have played at Bath,” he added.

“They’ve been outstanding so I’ve been pretty lucky to play in that team. I can take pride out of it but as a team we’ve had a big thing this year about sticking together and doing the best for each other, making each other look good in training and making each other look good in games.

“I think the lads have been brilliant at that this year, especially the forward to let the backs into it and impress themselves.

“I think one thing I would say is that the lads have put a lot of hard work, scored a lot of tries and earned a lot of penalties for the kicker to stand up and try and knock them over.

“That’s all you can do, just try and reward your teammates for all their hard work they’ve done.”

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