The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Fan­tas­tic Ford still some­one Scots can count on


ANEW era, a new coach­ing team and some new play­ers, but this was a great con­tin­u­a­tion of the ex­cit­ing rugby we have been grow­ing used to in the past cou­ple of years. I was part of squads that went through a few coaches, from start­ing un­der Jim Telfer and Ian McGeechan to Matt Wil­liams, Frank Had­den and fin­ish­ing un­der Andy Robinson, and no mat­ter how much you might think you know a coach com­ing in, there is al­ways a bit of ner­vous ex­cite­ment about what the change will mean. It puts play­ers on their toes.

But you could see play­ers in Sin­ga­pore yes­ter­day want­ing to prove them­selves to Gre­gor Townsend and the coach­ing team, and none more so than Ross Ford. He had to play sec­ond fid­dle in the re­cent Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship be­cause Fraser Brown has been the form hooker this sea­son and I was a lit­tle sur­prised that Gre­gor de­cided to start with Ross, but how Fordy re­paid him.

The great thing is that he is sta­ble, very de­pend­able, and while he’s maybe been frus­trat­ing over the years you’d want a big man like him in­volved a bit more. He has never taken a step back and con­tin­ues to im­prove his skills. You don’t get to 108 caps with­out be­ing an out­stand­ing in­di­vid­ual.

He has kept his body in good shape and, while I’d imag­ine he’ll equal Chris Pater­son’s cap record in Aus­tralia next week­end, if he can main­tain his mo­ti­va­tion I think he could play for a few years more yet.

Else­where, I was very im­pressed by Ben Too­lis, who has had to wait a cou­ple of years to get his sec­ond cap and he was out­stand­ing as well. The Gray boys have had a great run in the sec­ond row, rightly so, be­cause they are world class and I’d think Jonny Gray will be back in for the Wal­la­bies game on Sat­ur­day, but Ben has re­ally put his hand up with a great all-round dis­play.

John Bar­clay is step­ping into Greig Laid­law’s shoes as skip­per re­ally well — he started it with a great early break and showed again that he can do ev­ery­thing, truck up, link, make off-loads, and is de­vel­op­ing into a very im­por­tant mem­ber of the squad.

But what we saw was a build on the foun­da­tions that Vern Cot­ter and the squads set over the last cou­ple of years com­bined with the in­jec­tion of pace and tempo that Gre­gor has been de­vel­op­ing at Glas­gow. His game is all about tempo, speed on the ball, off-load­ing, in­jec­tion of pace and all from the solid base of very good set-piece from the for­wards of course.

And then it all comes through Finn Russell. He was in fine form again and it’s great to see the way he tries things in an ef­fort to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties — even with time up in the first half and the play­ers shat­tered, he still set up Tim Visser.

We’re watch­ing the Lions and won­der­ing how they’re go­ing to score tries, and you look at Scot­land with Finn and we are dan­ger­ous all over the pitch with strength in depth in the back­line among creators and fin­ish­ers.

I was for­tu­nate in that I never ex­pe­ri­enced a Test match in that kind of hu­mid­ity, al­though I re­mem­ber my first game for Cler­mont against Bour­goin in 38 de­grees, and it’s a lot harder than it will look to a lot of fans watch­ing on TV.

But I was pleased with the com­ments from play­ers in the lead-up, where they said they were putting the heat and hu­mid­ity out of their minds and they just got on with the job.

They will be dis­ap­pointed that the Ital­ians scored tries late on and I’d imag­ine Matt Tay­lor (de­fence coach) will make them aware that de­fence dropped below the stan­dards ex­pected, but that’s not a bad thing to fo­cus on ahead of a tougher Test in Syd­ney.

The Wal­la­bies will want to play rugby and so do we so if it’s a dry track it should be a crack­ing game. But the one thing we know is that to win Test matches in the south­ern hemi­sphere you have to be able to score tries — and I ex­pect a few changes to the Scot­land team.

Gre­gor will have thought long and hard about each of the chal­lenges on this tour, Italy be­ing quite dif­fer­ent to Aus­tralia and Fiji dif­fer­ent again, and he’ll have plans for each of them.

He will be keen to see Finn and the other in­jured boys re­cover quickly, and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see the start­ing team.

With WP Nel hav­ing had such lit­tle rugby, do you start him and bring Zan­der Fager­son off the bench, or vice versa; do you start Fraser Brown this time af­ter such a great game from Fordy?

Con­fi­dence and mo­men­tum are key in sport, but par­tic­u­larly in the rar­efied at­mos­phere of Test rugby. Gre­gor had a tough start at Glas­gow, but thanks to the work he has done with many of th­ese play­ers at Glas­gow, and the foun­da­tions laid by the pre­vi­ous coaches, he has been able to start well.

The next Test will be a sig­nif­i­cant step-up and beat­ing the cur­rent Aus­tralia squad in Syd­ney would be a huge re­sult, but this Scot­land squad are ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing it.

 ??  ?? STAR MAN: Ford is hailed by team-mate Al­lan Dell for his ex­cel­lent two-try show
STAR MAN: Ford is hailed by team-mate Al­lan Dell for his ex­cel­lent two-try show

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