Plenty left in Ford’s tank as he edges towards 100th cap
WHEN a player is closing in on a century of caps for his country, he tends to be nearing the end of his international career. It remains a rare landmark, one achieved by only the most durable of souls.
But Ross Ford, for one, a dozen years on from his debut, is eager to keep on going for some time yet. Part of the reason for that is the Scotland hooker’s unswerving commitment to the cause, a characteristic that has been obvious from his earliest years as a professional. But there is another important element too: the fact that, with Edinburgh colleagues Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel either side of him in the front row, Ford is enjoying the most successful rugby of his career.
The trio have been together for some time now at club level, but have formed an international unit only since last summer, when South-African-born Nel became eligible to play for Scotland. They have since become recognised as one of the best front rows in world rugby, and, health permitting, there is no reason why they should not continue their association all the way to the next World Cup in 2019.
Today’s match against Ireland will be Ford’s 99th appearance for Scotland – he also turned out once for the Lions, back in 2009, but does not count that as part of his official tally. He will be 32 next month, when Nel will turn 30; Dickinson will be 33 in September. They have all been round the block a few times and have the scars to show for it, but there are several laps left in them yet.
“Yeah,” Ford said yesterday when asked if he saw himself and his two colleagues going on to that tournament in Japan three years hence. “As long as I’m playing well and the coaches feel I can do a job I would love to continue playing. It would be great to get there again.
“We’ve worked together for a long time now and know what each other do. We’ve come up against most of the front rows we have played against in club games and internationally, so we know what to expect from different scenarios. We have a good front row and scrum. It’s not just the front row that does the job – it’s the back five as well. They’ve bought into it and contribute to everything that happens on the pitch as well.”
Sean Lamont reached the magic 100 during the World Cup last year, becoming only the second Scot after Chris Paterson to get into three figures. Ford will thus be the first Scotland forward to get there, most likely on the summer tour to Japan, and it would be fitting if he were to run up the century in what should be a relatively low-key Test, because he has always been uneasy with the extra attention that such occasions bring.
“You don’t tend to look at the stats and numbers when you’re playing,” he explained. “You just enjoy playing alongside the boys and winning games. There’s nothing special been done yet.
“It comes up, folk mention it. All I can really do is to try and perform to the best of my abilities and do my best for the team. If that leads to more caps so be it, but it’s not a target or anything. I just enjoy playing for my country.”
A dozen years is several generations in the life of a professional rugby team, and Ford has seen coaches come and go at both club and country level. There have been a whole heap of ups and downs along the way, but he is convinced that this current Scotland squad is heading firmly in the right direction.
“The make-up of the squad,” he answered when asked what the biggest change he had seen to Scotland since he won his first cap. “Sometimes we’ve had a good pack but the backs haven’t been to the same level, then it’s been viceversa. Now we have a squad of boys that are very well balanced and able to score tries, which we struggled to do in the past.
“The big thing is knowing we have the ability to score length-of-the-pitch tries and five metres out from the try-line as well. We can score from anywhere and we’ve become more clinical.”
In common with many other members of the World Cup squad, Ford has not had much of a break over the past couple of years, but he is not about to throw in a request for an extended summer holiday. Asked if he wanted to go on that tour to Japan, he offered a reply that might stand as the motto for his career to date, as well as explaining why he should be around for a while yet: “If I am picked, I will play.”
FORD: Hooker will make his 99th appearance for Scotland today