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Thu 27 Jun 2019 | 10:27

​Rugby’s most capped Scotsman hangs up his boots

​Rugby’s most capped Scotsman hangs up his boots
Thu 27 Jun 2019 | 10:27
​Rugby’s most capped Scotsman hangs up his boots

NEWS: ​Rugby’s most capped Scotsman, Ross Ford, confirmed his decision to retire from playing the sport to take up a role bringing on the next generation of young Scottish players in the Scottish Rugby academy.

Ford earned his last – and record-breaking 110th – Scotland cap against Fiji in 2017 and has brought an end to a historic career that was accompanied by close to 300 professional club games for Border Reivers and Edinburgh and a Test appearance for the British & Irish Lions on the 2009 tour to South Africa.

He won his first senior cap for Scotland when he was introduced as a replacement during the opening match of the 2004 November Tests against Australia at Murrayfield around two years after making a positional switch from back-row to hooker.

A typically understated character, he remained unassuming throughout a tenure as an unyielding authority on the number two jersey.

Immensely experienced in a position where weakness – physical, technical or mental – would be exposed ruthlessly, the Kelso man is well placed to begin work on the next chapter of his career – helping develop the strength and conditioning of the most prominent young players in his home region of the Scottish Borders.

He said: “I always enjoyed the S&C side of things. It was always a big part of my game and it was something I was good at.

“Later in my career I took a big interest in it and it became something I wanted to do after I finished playing, so I was really keen when this opportunity came up, especially being a Borders lad as well.

“There’s a lot of talent here so if I can help them develop and make this one part of their game world class then, hopefully, they’ll come through and go on to bigger and better things.

“I’m looking forward to getting in there and passing on some of the things I’ve learned and show a level of work ethic they can follow and stand them in good stead to be the best player they can be, setting the tone wherever they go.

“I’d like to think I’m in a good place to pass a lot of that on so it’s quite an exciting time. It gives me something to go into with a lot of energy and will allow me to keep getting a buzz from the game.”

Looking back on his career, Ford added: “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had a long career in the sport and have been able to represent my country at the highest level, playing in a lot of great places around the world.

“I’ve met some characters along the way and overall just feel very lucky to have played a sport that I love and make a living in the process.

“I never had any specific targets in mind, it [reaching 110 caps] just kind of crept up on me. I recognise it as a big achievement but it’s just something that came hand-in-hand with playing the sport.

“Mossy [Chris Paterson] got over 100 and Sean [Lamont] is up over 100 as well. I never set out to get to get certain number or beat them. I just kept playing because I was enjoying it.”

Scottish Rugby Player Liaison, Ben Atiga, welcomed the appointment. He said: “Ross Ford’s transition into coaching is a good illustration of the Rugby For Life programme in action.

“We work with players throughout the various stages of their playing career to ensure they are developing skills and experience that will support their life choices after playing professionally.

“It’s also important that players are supported in their next steps, so I will continue to work with Ross in his new role.”

Family man and relentless professional

Ford came through the system as a flank, representing Scotland age-grade sides in the position, before making the brave decision to swap life in the back-row for the front, taking time to embrace the new set-piece burdens of the position.

Whatever emotions he felt during this transition in the early noughties, he kept largely to himself.

“It was hard at the beginning and there were a few times that I wondered if I had made the right decision,” he added.

“Even when I got my first cap for Scotland, I was still really nervous.

“I wasn’t confident in my throwing or scrumming at that level and it was only really in the 2007 season, in the world cup camp, that I got a good blast at it, got into decent nick and worked a lot on my throwing. I went to that world cup as number one through circumstance and injuries to others.

“I’m glad I did it now, especially if you look how the game has changed and the other players in the back-row. I don’t think my skill-set was too well-suited to the way the game was developing but for hooker it was ideal, so I’m pretty pleased I did it in the end.

“I was always keen on the physical side and working hard to train as much as I could. That allowed me to stay fit for a long time. I didn’t suffer too badly with injury, which gave me consistency, and through that I gained confidence.

“I suppose I had quite a well-rounded game, especially when I was younger. I was quite mobile and good in the set-piece, which improved over time.

“A lot of talented hookers came through during my time and they all had their ‘big things’ but I don’t think I was outstanding at anything, I was just good at a lot, while I think I complemented the boys I played with as well.”

Ford could never have known his positional switch would turn out quite so well, setting him on an historic track.

He waited a year for a second Test appearance in the 2006 Six Nations – a just reward for a solid season with the Border Reivers – and another year for his first start, against France in Paris on the final day of the 2007 tournament.

It was from there that his career began to build serious momentum.

He was again in the starting XV for the next international, the World Cup warm-up in which Scotland beat Ireland 31-21 at home, and he continued as first-choice against South Africa two weeks later.

In 2007 Ford marked his World Cup debut with a try when he appeared as a replacement in Scotland’s 56-10 win against Portugal in St Etienne.

His second international try was in Scotland’s second-Test win against Argentina in Buenos Aires in June 2008, a series he still rates among his career highlights. He was a pivotal figure as Scotland commanded the forward exchanges on their historic 2-0 tour success in Argentina.

In an early indication of what would quickly become a line of accolades, Ross became the most-capped player from the Kelso club, over-taking the White Shark, John Jeffrey.

He then became the 31st Scot to reach the landmark of 50 caps for his country when he appeared against Romania in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup 2011 campaign.

He captained Scotland for the first time in the opening game of the 2012 Six Nations Championship and led his country to a historic 9-6 victory over Australia in the first Test of the 2012 tour to the South Pacific, to a second Test win over Fiji and made it three-from-three with defeat of Samoa.

The now ‘stick-on’ Scotland starter surpassed Gordon Bulloch, his fellow former Scotland captain and British & Irish Lion, as Scotland’s most-capped hooker, when he won his 76th cap, enjoying victory against Argentina in the third match of Scotland’s 2014 tour.

Ross, whose commitment, consistency and professionalism were described by former head coach Andy Robinson as “exemplary”, can also be measured by his cap tally, comments from his peers and his appearance in a third Rugby World Cup in 2015.

It was then on the 2017 tour that Ford would ultimately play his last Test match, featuring in all three tests and scoring three tries – two against Italy in the series opener in Singapore and a third against Fiji on the day he made cap history in Scotland colours – overtaking the record of 109 caps held by record points’ scorer Chris Paterson since 2011.

Paterson had nothing but praise for his fellow Borderer and long-time teammate for club and country.

“Whether he was winning his first cap or his 100th cap, whether he was captain or the newest player in the team, playing in a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal, Calcutta Cup or a friendly game on a summer tour, his passion, approach and level of performance was exactly the same,” said Paterson.

“To put it simply, his focus and drive was purely on his and the team’s rugby performance. He was never swayed or influenced by anything off the field. He was completely committed to the game.

“I’m not sure if Fordy’s level of consistency and durability over such a long period of time will ever be equalled.

“He was ahead of the game in terms of his physical conditioning. He was setting standards and raising the expectations for what was possible for front-row players long before it became the norm we see today.

“We played nearly 50 tests together and countless club games. It was always a pleasure to play alongside him and very reassuring to know he was there. A brilliant teammate who loved a chuckle.”

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