Rugby: Ross Ford's coach pulls a flanker

Switch to front row pays dividends for Edinburgh's Lion – and best is yet to come . . .

• Ross Ford has come of age as an international hooker

WHEN Andy Robinson reflected on last weekend's match in Tucuman he singled out two Scotland players for special mention, the flanker John Barclay, who is used to having his praises sung, and Scotland hooker Ross Ford who isn't.

It was only seven years ago that Borders coach Tony Gilbert urged Ford to switch from the back to the front row of the scrum and, up until recently, the joint where the two different players had been stitched together was all too obvious

Changing position is a difficult thing to do and, for every Max Evans, who played scrum-half until he moved to Scotland and switched to the outside channels, there is at least one – Roland Reid – who never quite nailed down the demands of wing play after moving there from No.8.

That Ford is no longer tagged as a "former flanker" in every article written about the player can only be a good thing.

Indeed, the Edinburgh hooker is becoming increasingly influential for Scotland. He was, after all, the only Scot to play an international match against South Africa for the Lions last summer and he returned home with a test cap and an enviable test match record that reads: Played one, won one.

If his confidence wasn't always what it could be, it was surely boosted by that experience.

"I think it's helped me this year especially in the Six Nations," said Ford of his Lions trip.

"You know the other players and their mindset, you know what they are looking to achieve. It's helped to have that insight going into games.

"It was a great time and I came back home with a lot of good experiences and a lot of new ideas."

The bulky front-rower is now slowing growing into one of Scotland's key players, a fact that was underlined by his performance last weekend.

The former Kelso man played a big part in the front row battle in the first test where the Scots surprised their hosts to win 24-16 in Tucuman, where the Pumas had never previously lost a Test match.

The presence of a 6'1" hooker who weighs in at 17 stones is a priceless asset when it comes to negating Argentina's ageing but still formidable front row.

The scrum battle was probably scored a draw, a better result than almost anyone had dared hope for ahead of the match. "I wouldn't say that we took them apart," said Ford, "but we got parity against them so it's just a matter of working hard on what we did well and taking another step forward tomorrow.

"They'll definitely come back at us so we need to up the level of performance again."

"Having looked at the video of the Tucuman game on Sunday morning, I felt there were quite a few areas that I could improve upon," he continued.

"But, when I came off the pitch, I felt quite happy with my performance.

I pride myself on my workrate, that's a key thing for me, and, watching the video, I saw I was doing a lot but I could be more productive.

"I could be a little more clever when deciding which rucks to hit and which ones to stand off."

Tomorrow's Test is the final match in a long season for the Scotland squad, who won't then play again for several months.

They have surely earned their summer break and Ford speaks for the whole squad when he talks about the determination to clinch a memorable double over the Pumas and finish the season in style.

"You don't have to hold anything back at all, you just have to absolutely go for it," said Ford.

"I think it's the time to do that. We had a good win in Tucuman and we want to do the same again this week.

We've got the confidence to have a go at them and express ourselves."

At the tender age of twenty-six, Ford is no more than a bairn when it comes to front row players.

He is a full eleven years younger than last weekend's opposite number Mario Ledesma and probably still some way off his prime.

Ford is already a central character in the Scotland front row and, if Scotland do clinch the double over Argentina tomorrow, some thanks are due to Gilbert for putting Ford on the right road seven years ago. In the absence of knee injury victim Chris Cusiter, Glasgow lock Ally Kellock will again captain the side.

And, despite having suffered a cut lip which required three stitches in last week's win, Kellock expects an even more physical encounter tomorrow. "We're under no illusions that it's going to be harder than it was last week. It's going to be more physical, if that's possible, and certainly they'll have tightened up on a lot of areas that we exploited.

"Having said that I think that there are areas in which we can improve. Not just looking at the video but during the game there were obvious things where we can do better.

"The start was no where near ideal so we need to start better because I'm sure they will. They will be really fired up."

Kellock insists the burst lip is not a problem – especially as it was inflicted by a team-mate!

He said: "Things seem to heal quicker when you are watching a video of a victory.

"And, having looked at the video it was Graeme Morrison

"Their boy came over the top to try and steal the ball and Graeme cleared him out and caught me at the same time but I'll take three stitches if we win anytime."

While Kellock knows just how impressive it would be for Scotland to beat the Pumas twice on their own patch, he also knows that a repeat of last week's effort just won't be good enough.

He said: "It would be huge for us but throughout the game we've got to improve. If we do that, I think we can win. We'll do everything we can to improve every aspect of our game."

Kellock celebrated his birthday this week at the home of Glasgow team-mate Bernard Stortoni's parents and the game was, obviously, a topic of conversation with Kellock revealing: "Bernard expects the Pumas to be very much better. He thinks that they will be very upset."



15 Southwell (S Francais)

14 S Lamont (Scarlets)

13 M Evans (Glasgow)

12 Morrison (Glasgow)

11 Danielli (Ulster)

10 Parks (Cardiff)

9 R Lawson (Gloucester)

1 Jacobsen (Edinburgh)

2 Ford (Edinburgh)

3 Low (Glasgow)

4 J Hamilton (Gloucester)

5 Kellock (c) (Glasgow)

6 Brown (Saracens)

8 Beattie (Glasgow)

7 Barclay (Glasgow)

Substitutes: Lawson (Gloucester), Dickinson (Gloucester), MacLeod (Edinburgh), Strokosch (Gloucester), M Blair (Edinburgh), Godman (Edinburgh), De Luca (Edinburgh).

Argentina (from): Agulla (Leicester), Borges (Albi), Carballo (Beagles Bordeaux), Contepomi (Toulon), Fernandez (Montpellier), Figuerola (CASI), Gonzalez-Amorosino (Leicester), Mieres (Stade Francais), Rodriguez (Stade Francais), Tiesi (Stade Francais), Albacete (Stade Toulousan), Ayerza (Leicester), Campos (Montauban), Carizza (Biarritz Olympique), Creevy (San Luis), Fernandez-Lobbe (Toulon), Fessia (Cordoba Athletic), Ledesma (Clermont), Leguizamon (Stade Francais), Roncero (Stade Francais), Scelzo (Clermont), Guzman (Tucuman RC), Vergallo (Dax).