It’s everyone’s dream day. The boss comes into work at the busiest, most stressful time of year and says: “You’ve worked hard enough this year, I don’t want you to get burned out, so why don’t you take the rest of the year off.”
That is the scenario Ross Ford was confronted with when Scotland coach Andy Robinson gave five Scotland players the rest of the season off from their club commitments so that they could prepare for the World Cup. It was, says the hooker, one from left-field.
“I never saw it coming,” he laughs. “It’s a strange one to get your head around, but I soon got used to the idea. Except for injuries, I’ve never had any time off, and the past couple of seasons have been long, with a lot of miles going on the clock. I’ve played a lot of rugby.”
Although the Edinburgh hooker felt a little jaded after the RBS 6 Nations, that’s usual for the end of the season and it felt odd not to be involved. Some team-mates who were still on full rations also had a dig at the ‘Famous Five’. The jealousy wasn’t to last for long though.
“We’re not playing in games or doing contact until the end of the season and a few of the other boys liked the sound of that,” he says.
“But then they saw that although we’re only in three days a week, we’re being absolutely beasted. They soon changed their minds!”
Ford says that the most unexpected benefit of Robinson’s decision is that for once he can switch off. A worrier by nature, he says that he’ll usually spend most of the season thinking about rugby and “running through the lineout calls in my head 24/7”. This way, he says, “for once rugby’s not weighing on my mind”.
The decision to also give Edinburgh’s Allan Jacobsen, plus Glasgow’s Richie Gray, Al Kellock and John Barclay the season off underlines the fact that neither Scottish club is in contention for the Magners League play-offs, while the loss of lock Scott MacLeod to Japan and fly-half David Blair to a teaching career hardly represents a vote of approval for the Scottish professional game.
“It’s been a difficult year at Edinburgh,” agrees Ford. “We’ve put together glimpses of great rugby, with a good 15 or 20 minutes in every half, but we’ve been too inconsistent. There are good young players coming through but it certainly hasn’t been a vintage year.”
Yet he still turned down a whole slew of offers from England and France to sign with Edinburgh for another three years. “The World Cup was the big factor. At Edinburgh I get looked after in the right way, with one eye on my international career. Having this rest period also means that I’ll come back from the World Cup fresh. The off-season is getting so short now you never really get that chance to get a good pre-season.”
Despite having 44 caps, he still feels he has a lot to prove with Scotland. “This has been a disappointing season for me; I’ve not been happy with my performances and have been very frustrated by my form. If I had an end-of-term report it wouldn’t say ‘could do better’, it’d say ‘must do better’.”
Scotland’s scrum was rock solid last autumn but it was shunted all over the shop in the Six Nations. Ford says he doesn’t know what went wrong, but could say that the scrum isn’t his sole responsibility. But it’s clear he doesn’t feel the same way about the lineout, which malfunctioned badly.
“The poor lineouts in the Six Nations were my fault, there’s no one else to blame. There were three overthrows against France and it went on from there. I wasn’t putting the ball where it should’ve gone, and it was especially disappointing against England as they had done their homework and read our lineouts well. The standard of my lineout work just wasn’t acceptable.”
Robinson is hoping that a period away from contact will allow Ford to practise his throwing-in, get some aerobic work under his belt and retrieve his misplaced mojo. He will be back for the warm-up games against Ireland and Italy, so says there’s no chance of being undercooked for the World Cup. He feels that if Scotland perform at 90-95% of capacity, as he believes they have done in the majority of games under Robinson, then they will advance from a tricky group that pits them against England, Argentina, Romania and Georgia.
“On our tour of Argentina last year we won both Tests and that was a massive confidence boost for us because we now know we can beat them. As for England, we went down to Twickenham with a malfunctioning lineout and scrum, won very little set-piece ball and consequently put ourselves under the cosh for most of the game, and were still close enough to win the game in the last quarter. Down in New Zealand, with the locals cheering us on, it’ll be a very different story. The important thing now is that we concentrate on our own form, and I suppose that’s what the time off is all about.”
Whether it has worked will only become clear on 1 October at Eden Park when Ford and Scotland meet England.
This article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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