FORMER Scotland stand-off Gordon Ross may be 36 now, but as the London Welsh man prepares for tomorrow’s Greene King IPA English Championship semi-final play-off first leg against Leeds Carnegie, he is as excited as he has ever been.
Having been relegated from the English Premiership last summer after one year in the top flight, many thought that Ross, who won 25 caps for Scotland between 2001 and 2006, would perhaps hang up his boots.
However, he was named as an assistant coach under new head coach Justin Burnell and he has managed to balance that role with playing pretty well, helping the side who now play in Oxford finish in second place in the division.
This afternoon Bristol, featuring the likes of Ross Rennie, take on Rotherham Titans in the first leg of their semi-final and tomorrow Ross and Co are in Yorkshire to tackle Leeds Carnegie.
Ross said: “When the club got relegated last summer it was a big blow and we knew there would be big changes at the club. Justin came in as head coach and there was quite a few new players while I was delighted to take up a coaching role.
“We knew it would be hard to hit the ground running in the tough division that is the Championship, but all credit to the players. They have bought into what Justin and the other coaches are trying to do and we seemed to get off to a pretty quick start which can be hard to do with a team coming together like that.
“I knew it would be quite strange moving from being a player to becoming a player-coach, but I have enjoyed it. There are certainly challenges and of course if I have a stinker on the pitch on a weekend then it can make the video analysis session on a Monday a bit more interesting, but the backs seem to have bought into what I am trying to do and they are a great bunch to work with.”
Having beaten Leeds Carnegie – one of Ross’s former clubs – twice in the regular season one might feel that would make London Welsh favourites for this two-legged affair.
Ross is not so sure though and has nothing but praise for the opponents. He said: “I think Leeds have been playing a great brand of rugby while their defence is tough and you can really see the work behind the scenes that head coach James Lowes has done with them while he has brought in some ideas from his rugby league background. When we played them back in November at Headingley it really was a great advert for the Championship. Both sides love to run the ball and each scored three tries with us just managing to come out on top 31-24.
“I expect it to be quite a tight game this weekend and we have to be on our game from the first minute. The guys are really buzzing and have trained well though, so I am looking forward to it.”
One fellow Scot who could be in opposition to Ross tomorrow is Stevie McColl.
The full-back has plied his trade in England’s second tier now for a number of seasons and in the summer will be moving to the top flight after Gloucester came calling.
Ross said: “There are a number of good Scottish players in the Championship and Stevie is one who has consistently performed well. It is great to see that he has been able to get a move to Gloucester and, fingers crossed, we will get to play against him next season too.”
As Ross alluded to earlier, things are a bit different now that he is a member of the coaching team and not just “one of the boys”, but he believes it may actually help his pre-match routine. “When I was younger you had days, sometimes all week, to think about the match and your role. However, because I am getting the boys ready for the match and doing so many other things during the week now, sometimes it feels like the first time I think about my own role on the pitch is when I am putting my socks on ahead of kick-off.
“This can be good though, because you don’t over think things too much and I am just greatly looking forward to the next two matches and seeing where it takes us.”