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.