SCOTLAND hooker Ross Ford endured a bittersweet start to his tenure as national rugby captain but he believes that he is a better skipper now and has the ability to lead Scotland to a first-ever victory over New Zealand.
Ford was called upon by Scotland head coach Andy Robinson at the start of the RBS Six Nations Championship after his first choice for skipper, Kelly Brown, suffered a serious leg injury in the final round of Heineken Cup pool matches. Brown is now back in harness at Saracens and has captained the Premiership side this season but Ford says that Robinson has not yet told him whether he plans to stick with hooker Ford or return to his fellow Borderer.
Ford said: “I would love to captain the team against New Zealand and be captain for the autumn Test series. Kelly is coming back but I’m quite happy with the job I’ve done up to now so we’ll see what happens.
“I feel fine with it now. I think you naturally learn things and I’ve had a run of games now and learned how to do things a wee bit differently, maybe not talk all the time and rely on boys who can take on other areas and share the workload. Not worrying about every aspect is important because you learn that we have good enough players and leaders, so the big thing is trusting guys to do their job and just be there to add polish, maybe. You improve with every game, so I’d say I am better now than when I first took the job on.
“We [Ford and Robinson] often have talks and he’s said he’s happy with what I’m doing, so it’s up to him what he wants to do come the autumn Tests. I’ve enjoyed it and would like to keep doing it but whatever he decides is best for the team I’m happy to go along with.”
Ford was speaking at the launch of Scotland’s new away strip in Edinburgh. A clear nod towards the commercialism now in the game, the Canterbury kit is bright and bold, with a saltire across the bottom half of an otherwise white shirt, with white shorts and socks. The blue colour used is the traditional saltire pale blue, which is a move away from the normal Scottish rugby navy, and Ford said that he felt sporting the saltire so obviously would add to the pride players felt about playing at Murrayfield.
The SRU’s director of communications, Dominic McKay, stated that pre-orders pointed to the kit being the most popular away kit to date and, confirming that it would first be worn against New Zealand at Murrayfield on 11 November, Toni Blackhurst, the SRU’s head of marketing and commercial partnerships, explained that the design was an attempt to draw on the inspiration of Scotland’s sporting performers on the world stage.
“From the Scotland rugby team’s tour of the southern hemisphere, the medal haul of Team GB Olympians and Paralympians to Andy Murray at Flushing Meadow and, most recently, Europe’s sensational Ryder Cup victory, there’s been huge anticipation and adrenalin,” she said, “and that’s while watching at home on TV.
“Now it’s time to watch Scottish sport in the flesh and experience that exhilaration on home turf. We’ll be using the theme ‘Scotland, up close, in the flesh and on home turf’ and integrating it through all our advertising. We’ll also be profiling the players to attract new fans.”
Ford is joined by Tim Visser, David Denton and Sean Lamont in 30-ft-high advertising on the side of the Omni building facing the busy Leith Walk roundabout adjacent to the Edinburgh Playhouse. The players will also feature in advertising around the country in the lead-up to the EMC Autumn Tests.
They are stripped from the waist up, underlining Blackhurst’s move to appeal to more than the traditional rugby audience. That reveals a scar across Ford’s torso, which the hooker explained was not from a nasty rugby injury, but an operation when he was an infant to correct a tight muscle that forced him to be sick when he ate.
Some Scotland captains may have experienced something similar before facing the All Blacks but one of Ford’s attributes is his ability to believe in himself and team-mates. He insists the current squad has the personnel capable of facing up to the All Blacks and following home and away wins over Australia with an historic first victory over the World Cup champions – if they play for 80 minutes.
“This is a brilliant challenge. They are the best team in the world and you want to play them and beat them. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and an 80-minute performance but you go into games like that with a belief that you can win, so nothing changes really.”
Really? Nothing changes even with the All Blacks? In answering the question on how he instils belief in his charges, Ford said he had learned that the key was to treat the men in black the same as any other opponent.
“It all comes down to what you do on the pitch,” he said.
“You have to be performing well and come into camp with the belief from some good performances. Then, when you’re there, it’s the work that you do on the training field that gives you confidence that you can do the skills under pressure. A lot of work has to be put in, in skills and other things, and it’s about reinforcing that constantly and, once you get everyone believing that, it becomes a conviction and things happen.
“New Zealand are the No 1 ranked team and have just won the Rugby Championship, so I expect a very confrontational game. There’s no doubting that they’re a good team and they will be a hard team to break down but we’ve often found after we’ve [played] them that boys have been shocked. Boys who haven’t played against them before have come off realising that it’s not any different to any other international.
“They are very clinical and you have to be switched on for the full 80 minutes but that’s where I mean it’s not different to other games. It’s just the application and consistency in performance. If we get that right, we can match them and we go into every game believing we can win.
“I don’t think many people outside the camp gave us much chance of beating Australia at their home but the boys believed. It wasn’t a great game to watch but the determination and effort put in for 80 minutes shows that, if you do things well enough, you will get the results.
“That day, we defended really well and the result came but in the autumn Tests we’ll have to hit them in defence and attack. The weather’s not going to be that bad too often, so defence and attack have to be spot on and the application and effort has to be there for 80 minutes.”
Whether he will be asked to lead the team or not, Ford remains a key player for Robinson and one of the few Scots pencilled in for the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour. The rollercoaster experiences of 2012 so far may be significant to his and Scotland’s hopes of success.
He added: “After the Six Nations I was physically and mentally drained but, when you look back, we did put in some good performances. There was just never an 80-minute, or even a 40-minute performance, just 20 or 30 minutes that were good. It’s important to look at that, but not over-analyse it. You have to park it and move on.
“And it’s the same now. The tour was good at the time, and good to get those wins and provide a confidence-booster for the boys, but it’s a new season now, new challenges and you have to look ahead again, and just get on with it.”