ROSS Ford accepts that the pressure will be on Scotland’s star names when they enter the fray in the third World Cup warm-up Test against Italy at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.
With seven players cut from the extended pool at the start of the week, then several key figures named in Vern Cotter’s initial 25-man squad for the weekend after missing the first two games, things are beginning to look a bit more real.
However, with a relatively makeshift side digging deep in Turin to finally register a maiden win for this calendar year, Scotland’s most-capped hooker Ford knows those viewed as leading men now need to live up to that billing.
“I think so,” said the 86-times capped 31-year-old at Scotland’s St Andrews training base when asked if the experienced players would be feeling the pressure to perform.
“That’s what’s good about the squad this time round, there’s a lot of competition for places and a lot of pressure on form. The boys last weekend got a win away from home, now we’ve got home advantage and although we’re not sure what sort of team Italy will send across they’ll be looking at certain areas of the game where we didn’t do as well as we should have.
“They’ll be targeting that so we have to make sure we front up and give a platform that we can attack off, and nullify the strong attacking game that Italy had.”
The likes of returning skipper Greig Laidlaw, top stand-off Finn Russell, Lions full-back Stuart Hogg, fit-again centre Mark Bennett and Glasgow Warriors’ tyro lock Jonny Gray haven’t featured in any of the two warm-up games, however Ford has had some game time off the bench in the 28-22 loss to Ireland in Dublin and in Turin.
Ford said: “In Dublin we played some good rugby and it was a lot more of an open game. We showed a lot of character to come back and had opportunities to win that.
“Italy was a far different game, the conditions were a lot different and it was a lot more physical.
“We didn’t have a great start or the dominance we really wanted but the character to keep going at it showed in the win in the end.
“That’s all that mattered in the end, having more points than the opposition. We showed a lot of determination to keep going and get the win.”
Earlier this week Ford’s club coach Alan Solomons said he would be shocked if Scotland didn’t start the World Cup with an all-Edinburgh front row, with props Al Dickinson and WP Nel packing down either side of the man from Kelso.
While understandably less keen to give Cotter any selection advice, Ford did admit it was good to finish the game in Italy alongside familiar figures. “We’ve got the advantage in that we play 70 minutes week-in and week-out with each other, against everybody,” he continued.
“So we almost instinctively know what to do against different opposition. We feel what’s happening in the scrum and react to it quite well. That’s maybe an advantage right there, and it’s helpful.”
Ford reckoned Nel, the South Africa-born tighthead who qualified for Scotland in June on the residency rule, acquitted himself well and added: “I wasn’t surprised. The way WP plays, he’s really good to scrum with, he’s so aggressive, he wants to go forward all the time which makes my job a lot easier.
“Around the pitch he throws himself about. He brought his family across here and made the statement by doing that that he was committed, so it was really good to see him get that first cap and get a start now. I think he’s deserved it.”
Italy, with their physicality and strong set-piece play, are the type of team Ford relishes taking on, although the end result is always the determining factor when it comes to how much enjoyment he takes from the contests.
Scotland know they will face big physical tests in Pool B come the World Cup and the hooker feels the back-to-back games against the abrasive Azzurri will prove a useful exercise.
“They are very good for preparation as they are very set-piece wise and that’s where the game starts so we need to be strong in that area,” said Ford.
“We need to nullify their set-piece areas as so much comes from there.
“There have been games against Italy where we have managed to score some tries and others have been a real grind. The games aren’t always the most open but I always enjoy winning.”
With head coach Cotter to announce his 31-man squad on Tuesday, Ford knows it is now crunch time.
“It is make or break but we knew right from the start that it would be the case,” he said.
“We knew when the final squad was going to be announced so we’ve taken that into training and into these games. We’ve been looked at closely by the coaches, they’ve been looking at everything.
“The boys understand the situation as that’s the sport we are in.
“We can only take 31 players to the World Cup and we have all had an opportunity to put our hands up.
“It’ll be great for the boys who get that opportunity but for the ones that don’t they need to go away and keep working away as there are a number of young boys in the squad and they will get another chance.
“One of the good things is that we have a good group of players who can take us forward for a few years to come.”