Gordon Ross leads Welsh raid on Pirates

FORMER Scotland stand-off Gordon Ross will seek to draw inspiration from his beloved Hearts in his quest to return to the English Premiership tonight when London Welsh head to Cornwall for the first leg of the Championship Final play-off.

The veteran internationalist will face another Scot in Cornish Pirates’ lock Ian Nimmo, who was on the books of Leicester and England before becoming a cult hero at the Pirates’ Mennaye Field. The lock has this season featured in the Championship’s Dream XV.

Welsh have lost on their last three visits, which includes last season’s 18-10 semi-final defeat, the Pirates going on to lose the final to Worcester Warriors. Ross was also shown a yellow card in the league defeat in January.

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“I’ve not had a great time down at Pirates personally,” he admitted, “but that’s up to me to sort out. I am hoping to take inspiration from Hearts beating Hibs 5-1 in the Scottish Cup Final! The last three times we’ve been down to Cornwall in the league we haven’t performed.

“The one thing the Pirates do is they come at you for 80 minutes and don’t give you any space or time. We’ve got to make sure that, for 80, minutes we’re proactive and ready for that challenge, and, hopefully, we can put our game together and challenge their defence.”

Ross came up through the Scottish game with Chris Paterson and has watched his friend and former team-mate retire from rugby this season. However, at 34 and with 25 Test caps to his name, Ross has signed on for another year at Welsh and is hoping for a last hurrah in the top flight, which he has already graced with Leeds and Saracens.

Welsh only scraped into the play-offs, finishing fourth in the league, and so face a tough assignment in the next eight days, the Pirates having already scalped the promotion favourites Bristol. Welsh were forced to hold on against the Bedford Blues for a 30-27 aggregate win in their semi-final. Ross added: “We believe in our ability and they way we’ve performed the last two or three months.

“Hopefully, we can put a performance together and really challenge them. We were a bit disappointed with the way we played in the second half [of the semi-final].

“The first 20 minutes after the game the guys were a bit down, but then we realised what we’d achieved this season. To get to the final is a massive achievement from finishing fourth in the league. And we started playing some of our best attacking rugby of the season in the play-offs. Our challenge in these big games is that we’re only going to get one or two chances but, if we can take them, hopefully it will be enough.”

The return leg will be played at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium next Wednesday and Ross added: “That will be exciting. We love playing down at Old Deer Park – it’s a great venue and a great pitch – but the Kassam is something. Hopefully, the Welsh fans can get up there as it should be a good atmosphere.”