George Ford admits accepting the LeoVegas Fans’ Favourite award for his performance in the loss to Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road last weekend didn’t sit well with him.
Despite a string of disappointing results for the club, Ford has remained a shining light and Tigers supporters – as well as the wider rugby community – have praised the international fly-half for his individual efforts throughout the season.
“It's a bit hard to cop when people say we aren't trying or don't care."
However, the team-focused Ford, has joined those fans in saying that the team is “not pleased” with their current efforts and pointed towards the inability to deliver an 80-minute effort as a major reason for the recent dip in form after back-to-back Gallagher Premiership wins over Harlequins and Gloucester over the Christmas period.
“Not sure I felt right accepting an award after the game, if I'm being honest,” Ford said.
“We came into the game wanting a win over Exeter and didn't get it - we're not pleased.
“What we did do is show plenty of what we're about today and what we're capable of, but our downfall was not delivering that for the entire match and we need to be doing it for 80 minutes, not 40.”
Ford currently sits top of the Premiership’s points tally for the season with 164, including four tries, and is kicking at almost 85 per cent in the competition from 66 attempts at goal.
“We know the fans are disappointed too, just like us, and we know how much it means to them - just like us."
It has been a bitter-sweet season for the Leicester No.10 which included making his 50th Test appearance for England in the autumn against Japan and captaining his country at Twickenham on the same day, as well as scoring the crucial try to save the national side from defeat to Scotland in the final Six Nations fixture of 2019.
But, with all those highs, there has been plenty of lows for both club and country, which the 26-year-old believes are the times you learn more about yourself.
“It is cliché, but you learn more through the tough times than you do when you're winning,” he said. “This will make us a stronger squad and better players.”
The Tigers academy product, who returned to the club at the start of last season after a spell with Bath, believes the testing times are also a chance for players and fans to show their commitment to each other.
“Sport throws challenges at you as players and fans. It’s about staying together and working harder through those periods, as players and as a club alongside our supporters, to come out the other end,” added Ford.
Simply put, Leicester need to register victories in the final four fixtures of the season to ensure safety from relegation. Whether or not they need to be in all four remains to be seen and will also depend on results elsewhere in the league.
"There are still four games left this season,” Ford told LeicesterTigers.com. “That's 20 points on the table and, whether you think we're right or not to think about it that way, that's how we're approaching it. The quality is there to do it, we know that.”
Pundits and some supporters have questioned whether that “quality” exists at Tigers this season and also questioned at times the commitment of players and coaching staff.
Ford pulled no punches in a refreshingly honest response and called on supporters, who he accepts are entitled to share their disappointment, to join the fight for survival.
“It's a bit hard to cop when people say we aren't trying or don't care,” Ford said.
“I'd invite them in to the changing room before or after any match or down the training ground during the week, they'll see that we care.
“We know the fans are disappointed, just like us, and we know how much it means to them, just like us.
“We're all putting in, every single day, and hope that for the remaining fixtures this season - home and away - they're with us.”
Tigers take on Falcons on Friday, with a win presenting an opportunity to extend a five-point difference between the two clubs at the bottom of the Premiership table. There is then a weekend off before welcoming Bristol Bears to Welford Road in Round 20 (Saturday, April 27) and a trip to The Stoop in the penultimate round to face Harlequins on Friday, May 3.
In the final round of the season, Leicester welcome long-time rivals Bath to the East Midlands on Saturday, May 18 in a mouth-watering showdown between the two clubs.