Plenty left in Ford’s tank as he edges to­wards 100th cap

The Herald - Herald Sport - - SIX NATIONS - STU­ART BATH­GATE

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

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