SCOTLAND hooker Ross Ford is recognised as one of the most technically astute rugby players in Scotland, but he believes that the key to victory over Italy tomorrow lies less with training ground plans and more in passion and aggression.
In fairness, it is not just Ford. Speaking this week about his delight at winning a recall, having sat on the bench at Twickenham, for the first time since the 2007 World Cup, the Borderer highlighted the blend of technical focus and aggression as being one that forwards coach Dean Ryan raised with the side in the aftermath of the Calcutta Cup defeat.
Ford explained: “We weren’t at the breakdown quick enough and didn’t get quick enough ball on Saturday, and that’s where our problems started.
“England are very good at it, and you have to give them credit, but we have talked about how we worked a lot technically in the build-up to that game, but how it’s also an attitude thing. It’s attitude that makes you do that, get into the positions quicker and more aggressively.
“You can do all the technical work you want, but if it’s not backed up with attitude and aggression nine times out of ten it’s not effective.
“That was mentioned this week, and Dean made the point that we have our plays and systems, but in Test match rugby that can go out of the window. It’s about getting there and being able to do it.”
It might seem incongruous to hear such comments from the quiet-spoken Ford. He is a naturally laid-back character off the field and insists that while some players like to bawl and scream at each other in the dressing room before kick-off, that has never motivated him. Critics have questioned whether he puts his 18 stones of rippling muscle to full use in carrying ball and putting Scotland on the front foot in every game because he is not the most demonstrative of players.
But, the statistics inform the coaches that he has been one of the most effective and consistent ball-carriers, defenders and ruck players in the side in the past few years, and that is why both Frank Hadden and Andy Robinson found it impossible to drop him despite some lineout blips.
However, Scott Johnson sent a message to Ford that he cannot walk straight into the side by picking Dougie Hall last week for a first Test start in six years. It was a fairly straightforward call as Ford had missed a month of rugby with Edinburgh due to shoulder nerve damage.
The Edinburgh hooker is confident that he is back to full fitness, the pain gone, and says that he felt good after nearly 40 minutes at Twickenham. But after experiencing a career low when skippering Scotland to defeat in Rome last season, he recognises that the first hour tomorrow in what will be his 65th Test match promises to be a frenetic, lung-bursting car smash of a contest.
“It’s great to be back in the team. Being on the bench is not where I want to be so I have to take this opportunity and show the coaches that it is worth starting me every time.
“I’d been out for a month and hadn’t played any rugby so I fully understood that I couldn’t merit starting, and Dougie has been playing well for Glasgow so fully deserved his chance, but with the way things have happened I’ve got another opportunity now and I have to go for it.
“I did a lot of fitness work while not playing and I’m ready, but we all know how tough Italy will be. When they get their noses in front and the longer they are in the game they more they feed off it and become a very difficult side to break down. They showed that against France, the incredible amount of passion they played with the whole time, and we have to make sure that the areas Johnno [Johnson] has pointed out are spot-on for this game.”
With passion and emotion recognised as key traits, especially against an Italian side that now believes they are not merely the equals of Scotland but favourites to win at Murrayfield, Ford is delighted to have a crowd now inching towards 60,000 behind him and confident that this Scotland team will prove that the gulf that appeared between Scotland and their opponents a week ago is not evident tomorrow.
“It’s great to be back at Murrayfield again, with the crowd behind us and roaring us on. It’s always great to be here, playing for Scotland in front of your own crowd.
“We’ve had a disappointing result to start off the Six Nations before and turned it around quite quickly, and we have to do that again.”