FROM captain to castaway. It is a journey which no rugby player wants to make, but one which Ross Ford may just have feared he had embarked on a few weeks ago.
After being selected as Scotland skipper by Andy Robinson, Ford was omitted from the team for new coach Scott Johnson’s first game – the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham. Injury had played its part in the Edinburgh hooker’s fall from favour, but, after so long as the undisputed first-choice No 2, Ford had also lost some form this season.
Down to earth and dedicated to his job, he may well have been the last member of the Scotland squad who needed that kind of jolt – but he got one anyway. Now, though, Ford is back at the heart of things. He started against Italy, played all 80 minutes of the 34-10 victory, and has kept his place for Sunday’s home game with Ireland.
The 28-year-old from Kelso may not be at his absolute peak again just yet, but he is getting there. “I think you just sometimes lose form,” when asked to explain why his playing standards had dropped in the autumn.
“For all the will in the world and all the hard work, sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
“I’ve had a bit of time off with injury and that, and I just went away and did some fitness [work], and maybe I came back a bit fresher, I don’t know, but I seem to have picked up a wee bit more form.
“It’s good to get back in the team and play well, but I know I have to be playing a lot better, and that’s something I want to try and focus on and keep improving with each game. And helping the boys out.
“I get frustrated [by lost form]. Because I know what I can do and I do get frustrated when I’m not producing that. But you just have to keep working.
“Maybe training is a good way of clearing the mind for me. Just get out and do some weights or go out on the bike, or just do something where I can let out a bit of energy.
“I lost my form. It’s in the past now. I just focus on trying to play better still and helping the boys out.”
There is a school of thought that, with a new tighthead prop alongside him this weekend, Geoff Cross having taken over from Euan Murray, Ford will also have to focus on how the man on his right is playing, perhaps even nursing his Edinburgh team-mate through the game. It is a notion of which Ford himself does not approve, as he has first-hand knowledge of just how well Cross can play.
“I’ve worked with Geoffrey for a long time with Edinburgh. Same with Scotland. Same scrummaging coach.
“Obviously Euan and Geoffrey have got different strengths, but when it comes to scrum time we’re working to the same systems. It doesn’t make any real difference.
“Geoffrey’s good around the loose when he’s carrying ball – we saw that against Italy. He made some ground. It doesn’t make any difference who plays at tighthead – they’ve got different strengths. But we’re all working to the same process.
“Geoffrey’s very practical if he’s going well. He’s not really a big up-and-down player. He’s very tactical, he knows what he needs to do and he does it.
“If I was to help him out it would just be to remind him what he’s got to do, and what he does do when he’s going well. That’s all you need to do with Geoffrey. He’s point-and-shoot and he’s good at it. He’s strong. He’s very effective.”
Besides being pleased by the result against Italy, Ford was encouraged by the fact he was on the field from first whistle to last. Glasgow’s Pat McArthur was stripped and looked set to come off the bench for a first cap in the dying minutes, but Johnson explained later that he was not in the business of awarding caps cheaply. While Ford has some sympathy with McArthur, the coach’s message is one with which he very much agrees.
“I had a wee bit cramp against Italy, but I managed to last 80 minutes, which is the first time I’ve done that for a couple of months. I was pretty happy. I came out the other end, so it was good.
“I saw Pat was stripped and ready to go, and I half expected to be getting pulled off. But it won’t be long before he’s in the team and going very well.
“Scott’s point about not giving the jersey away easily fits in with the ethos of the players and what goes on in the changing room, The plaques on the wall. . . there are great players in the past that have worn the shirt.
“You have to earn it, and have the right to wear it when you’re in that jersey. You’ve got to give everything. It doesn’t come easy.
“It’s a good sentiment to have. It just makes boys on the fringes that much more hungry, and the boys in the shirt have to work a lot harder and make sure they don’t drop off.”