Ross Ford confessed to being surprised that Italy’s “ruckgate” tactics the other week created such chaos in England’s ranks and recalled the time that Glasgow tried it against his Edinburgh side in an 1872 Cup clash.
The veteran hooker praised the Italians for their innovation in not contesting rucks, which allowed them to disrupt on the English side of the tackle, and, while stopping short of criticising England for being slow on the uptake about how to combat the ploy, couldn’t hide his surprise that it caused such a stir.
“It was interesting but I don’t know what all the hoo-ha was about because there have been teams who have done it before in Super Rugby and the Pro12,” said Ford.
“It’s just something you adapt to, even though it’s strange when you first see it because it’s not the norm. It’s a pretty simple fix to get around it.
“We [Edinburgh] had it done against us. Glasgow tried it a couple of years ago at Murrayfield and it’s one of the things you deal with on the pitch. We dealt with it from the first kick-off. We were kind of aware because we’d seen them do it before and knew we had to be ready for it.
“It’s one of those things you have to be prepared for, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just a way of disrupting teams’ flow, but if you do it you leave yourself exposed in other ways.”
Ford did have some sympathy with the England side, who were reduced to pleading with referee Romain Poite for guidance only to be told by the Frenchman: “I’m not your coach.”
Ford continued: “Maybe they [England] were caught up in the flow of the game, not getting their own way, they maybe got a bit flustered but that’s something you have to deal with. There’s always words coming on from coaches up top, feeding in information on things we could do better, maybe the messages didn’t get down quite quickly enough or there was no opportunity.”
After trailing the rank outsiders 10-5 at half-time, the initially bamboozled England eventually worked things out and pulled away for a bonus-point 36-15 win at Twickenham. Scotland have produced a few cute moves of their own in the championship so far, most famously the one which saw centre Alex Dunbar take Ford’s short throw at a lineout and glide over for a try to the the astonishment of the Irish pack.
While naturally not giving anything away, Ford admitted that the Scots have a few other tricks up their sleeve.
“You’re always looking to analyse and make things go your way, you do that for every team,” he said. “You’re always looking for ways into the game. England are no different, there’s ways into the game against them that we can target and try to get to them.”
Of course, Scotland know England will target them, with the scrum an obvious area of concern. Ford laughed off a poll on social media which was asking if he should be switched to prop in a bid to strengthen the front row, with the onetime back-rower saying he’s “too old to change position”.
The 32-year-old has been covering Fraser Brown from the bench this year and insisted that there was plenty of graft going in to improve that crucial phase of the game.
“We’ve trained hard and the performance against Wales was better,” he said. “You’re always going to get the odd penalty or free kick against you. That’s the big thing – having the ball ready to play and when it’s there the ref’s more inclined to let it play.
“England are just another pack. We’ve come up against some good packs in Ireland, France and Wales but we know what we can do well and what areas to target – there’s no fear.”
Ford praised 21-year-old tighthead Zander Fagerson, pictured, for his tireless effort and enthusiasm in what is an unforgiving introduction to the highest level of the game.
“He’s good, he’s a talented boy,” said the hooker. “He’s backed it up with two 80-minute performances so far which is quite a feat for a tighthead especially one his age. He’s constantly learning and willing to learn as well.”
With his Edinburgh team-mate Al Dickinson out injured, Ford is the only member of the squad to taste Calcutta Cup success, featuring in both 2006 and 2008. If he takes the field on Saturday for a 106th cap it will be his seventh outing at Twickenham including the World Cup quarter-final against Australia in 2015 and, despite its daunting reputation as Scotland’s most unhappy hunting ground in the championship, the Kelso man said it is a place he enjoys playing at.
“The atmosphere there is really good,” he said. “The past couple of times I’ve been down we’ve been in the game, the last time we were leading at half-time. It does take an 80-minute performance but we’re in the ballpark so it’s a case of keeping our concentration and executing right.”
Ford agreed with his skipper John Barclay that cool heads will be needed. “We all love playing for our country but it’s a case of having to think clearly,” he said. “You need to think clearly when you’re under that pressure so you can turn the it back on them. You have to understand what’s happening in the game so you can react when opportunities arise.”