Ford ready to fight for Edinburgh and Scotland jersey

Edinburgh hooker has returned from injury rejuvenated and ready to fight for a World Cup place

Ross Ford
Ross Ford is fit again after an injury ravaged 2017-18 season and ready to fight for the No 2 jersey at both club and international level ***Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson***

IT DOESN’T feel quite right to call Ross Ford philosophical. He’s always been far too down to earth for any of that pipe-smoking, star-gazing stuff, preferring to get on with the practical details of a profession which he sees as “not overly difficult – you just have to train hard and do your job”.

And yet, at 34, the Edinburgh and Scotland hooker has definitely become a more reflective man. Last season’s long spell on the sidelines following pectoral damage and shoulder surgery may have played a part, and watching front-row team-mate Alasdair Dickinson being forced to retire might also have been a factor. And then there is the fact that, after being in possession of the No 2 jersey for both club and country for so long, he has been overtaken by Stuart McInally at Edinburgh and is behind Glasgow’s Fraser Brown and George Turner, too, in the current Scotland pecking order.

He will fight for his place, of course – why spend those long months in the gym getting back to full fitness otherwise? But he has a greater sense of acceptance now; a greater understanding that if he does indeed train hard and do his job and still does not get selected, there is nothing he can do about it.


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“I think I’m just a bit older now,” is his own explanation. “I’m quite laid back. If I play well I’ll get picked, if not I’ll just have to play a bit better.

“Credit to Rambo [McInally], he’s made it very difficult, so I just have to try and do everything I can that’s within my ability to see if I can get in front of him. But he’s making it very difficult and he’s played bloody well. It’s good to see.

“I’m still young, I’m only 34. I’ve got plenty time left in me, I’m enjoying myself, I’m still in good nick, so I’m quite happy to keep going and see what happens.”

Sidelined

The pectoral injury occurred last November, keeping Ford out of the Autumn Tests and the Six Nations, and although he had a few outings at domestic level in the spring, he did not make his first start for Edinburgh until Friday’s loss to Leinster.  There are inevitable frustrations when you are forced to sit out the action for so long, but, at least now he has come through it all, Ford acknowledges that the compulsory break helped recharge his batteries. “Definitely. I feel young and I’m still young, but the week-in, week-out pounding that you take is hard on your body, so I think that time off last year has allowed me to freshen up and realise I’m in the fortunate position that I get to play rugby. It’s not overly difficult – you just have to train hard and do your job. I haven’t had many injuries or much time off before that, so it’s helped me and it’ll hopefully add another season on to my career.

“I got a run around at the end of the season with Melrose and it was just good to be back playing. Last weekend was the first time I’ve got out and had a proper hit-out and I just really enjoyed it. The result wasn’t great, but being out and playing against Leinster was good fun. I enjoyed the atmosphere, I enjoyed throwing myself about and just being back playing again. It was nice.”

The comeback kid

He has been with Edinburgh for 11 years now, and there must have been a lot of times during that decade and a bit when, with the team showing precious few signs of progress, making a comeback would not have felt as ‘nice’ as it did last week. Things are different now, though, and Ford feels that, after a promising first season under head coach Richard Cockerill, his team should expect to kick on again in this campaign.

“I think we’re probably the most rounded we’ve been since I’ve been here. I think teams are a little bit more aware of us this year and paying us a bit more respect. We’ve got a lot of talented players in the squad, young talented players as well, and we’re in a good position to do something this year with the squad we’ve got. I think we should be looking to achieve more than last year. I think everyone believes in ourselves more than we did pre-Cockers, so I think it’s only fair to believe in that and go for it and give it a good bash.”

Fighting back from a serious injury of your own can be taxing mentally and emotionally as well as physically, but at the same time as he was doing all that, Ford saw Dickinson go through a similar process only to come to a different conclusion. Having last played in March 2017, the loosehead finally announced in August that his playing days were over and that he would henceforth work as a coach with the Scottish Rugby’s Academy.

“I was playing a long time with Dicko and we’re a similar age and you never want to see anybody have to retire through injury, but I think he was quite laid-back about it. It is what it is. I think his new role, he’ll be good at that ,and he’ll still keep himself in good nick and he’s got a lot of knowledge to pass on to young props coming up through. If they can learn anything from him it’s just not letting size or anything hold you back, don’t let folk pigeon-hole you, because when he was playing well he was probably one of the best looseheads in the world. At the end of his career he was destroying people for fun and getting the credit. So it’s difficult, but I think he was quite happy with his decision in the end. He’d made peace with it, so that’s all you can ask for.”

World Cup ambition

Ford was part of a formidable front-row trio for Edinburgh and Scotland along with Dickinson and WP Nel around the time of the last Rugby World Cup – the third in which he had played. The prospect of playing in a fourth tournament, in Japan next year, definitely appeals to him, but he is aware that he faces a tough fight to get into Gregor Townsend’s squad.

“I’d have a bash at four – we’ll see how it goes. There’s a lot of ground to be covered between now and then, so I’ll just go about my job and see what happens.

“I’m not going to lie, it would be good to go and play in a fourth World Cup. I think with the squad we’ve got we’ve got every opportunity to do very well, so to be involved in that would be great.

“If it happens it happens. If not, well, I’ve had a good kick at the ball.”

And after that kick of the ball is finally at an end, what then? Will he perhaps follow Dickinson into coaching? The question provokes a sceptical smile.

“I’d rather no.”


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About Stuart Bathgate 1412 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.