Scotland’s most-capped rugby player Ross Ford looks set to hang up his boots at the end of the season after a historic career but Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill stressed that there remains some unfinished business for him before he gets the pipe and slippers out.
About to turn 35 later this month it has been clear that the Borderer’s career is in its twilight but, with club skipper Stuart McInally the only other fit hooker, Ford still has a part to play in Edinburgh’s push for the Guinness Pro14 play-offs and a return to the Heineken Champions Cup, which continues on Friday night at home to Ulster.
The unassuming Kelso man has gone on to win an unprecedented 110 caps for his country, plus one for the British and Irish Lions in 2009 to add to his Test total. Along with Chris Paterson (109) and Sean Lamont (105) he is in an elite band of Scotland centurions.
His first cap came way back in the 2004 autumn series against Australia and he went past Paterson in the 2017 summer Test against Fiji.
Ford is one of seven players leaving at the end of the season, Edinburgh announced yesterday. He has been at the club since 2007 and gone on to make 197 appearances.
“Ross is looking at his options, around whether that means to play on, what options there are, what other possibilities there are outside of playing,” said Cockerill.
“He has been in the game a long time. He has a lot to offer both on and off the field so hopefully he will get something that suits his ambitions and family life and all those things. We wish him well.
“He won’t be with Edinburgh. He is the most capped Scotsman of all time, 110 caps should be respected. It depends on what Fordy wants to do. People have different things in their life. It does not have to be around their rugby.
“He is a good man. He works very hard. There is a lot to like about Ross but hopefully he will assimilate into whatever he does next, whether that is playing or normal life or he has to come out of the bubble of professional rugby hopefully he will find something that suits him.”
The former England hooker added: “It’s a nice place to be at when a guy with Fordy’s experience can be in your squad and he’s played well to be fair. But there comes a natural time when we’ve got to evolve the squad and look to the future.”
Fellow internationalist and club centurion Tom Brown – who made his Edinburgh debut in 2010 and has since made 118 appearances – will also move on at the end of the current campaign.
Joining the pair in departing are scrum-half Sean Kennedy – an Edinburgh player since 2011, with 66 appearances to his name – and Scotland back-row Luke Hamilton.
With their departures already confirmed, scrum-half Nathan Fowles – who has made 71 appearances in the capital since joining the club in 2015 - will join Ealing at the end of the season, while back-row Senitiki Nayalo departs for Coventry.
Also included is Scotland international prop, Allan Dell, whose departure to London Irish for the 2019-20 season was confirmed in January.
Back-row forward Hamilton was a major signing for Edinburgh last season from Cockerill’s former club Leicester and has won three caps for Scotland. He has suffered a concussion injury this season but the coach said he is now fit but won’t be considered after turning down the offer of an extension to his one-year deal.
“Luke was offered a contract but he declined it because we could not agree terms,” continued Cockerill. “He hasn’t played since Christmas because of concussion. There’s some stiff competition there [in the back row] and at the moment he hasn’t played since the Glasgow game at Christmas. Where does he get in that back row? That’s the quandary.”
After recording a first away win outside Scotland in the Pro14 at Scarlets on Saturday, Cockerill is expecting his players to “keep trucking on” against Ulster on Friday night.
“We have got to win. Same as last week,” he said. “If we don’t win we are relying on other things, miracles mainly, so we have just got to keep winning. Even if we win at the weekend we have still got a little bit to do. It is a tough run-in with the teams we have to play [Glasgow away comes on the last day of the regular season].
“We’ve just got to keep trucking along and getting the win. I don’t mind how we get them as long as we get them. They [Ulster, who were well beaten at Scotstoun last Friday] have had a tough run. They’ve been to Dublin [against Leinster in Europe], Glasgow and now come to us. They need to win. We need to win”
Ulster’s pack should be boosted by the return of Ireland Test stars Rory Best and Iain Henderson.
“If they are back they are good players,” said Cockerill. “[Ireland skipper and hooker] Best has great leadership and is a British and Irish Lion, the same with Henderson, but we have very good players too. I am not relying on them fielding a second team to win. They will bring their best team and we will put our best team out.”