Gordon Ross will return to the scene of some memorable rugby triumphs next season intending to prove himself in a new role as coach when his London Welsh side tackle Edinburgh at the BT Murrayfield Stadium in the European Challenge Cup.
Fresh from piloting the Welsh Exiles back into the Aviva English Premiership with a man-of-the-match display when Bristol were beaten home and away in the annual Championship promotion play-off, former Edinburgh stand off Ross insists it is time to refocus – while admitting the Euro draw has given him some food for thought about playing on, albeit the decision appears irreversible.
“My wife is due our first child in December so that’s just another reason for me to stop going out to play,” joked the one-time Heriot’s ace whose Scotland triumphs in Edinburgh included a record 23 points on debut against Tonga in 2001, a pivotal role as South Africa were beaten 21-6 a year later and an impact role in the 18-12 Calcutta Cup win over England in 2006.
Overall Ross achieved a 52.5 per cent win rate from 25 international appearances – a statistic many of the current crop can currently only dream of.
“There’s no question Murrayfield has many happy memories, but I was really only drawn into the London Welsh team for the play-offs due to a couple of our regular stand offs being injured,” said Ross, adding: “It was a blessing in disguise that I was out injured for a couple of months at the turn of the year because when I did come back I was fresher and I needed all the stamina I could muster to get through the play-off!”
For the past year, the one-time Hearts youth footballer and Scottish Schools golf international – he played against an England team containing Justin Rose – has been combining playing with coaching.
“My role against Edinburgh will be mainly analysis and specialising in areas such as kicking and attack when assisting head coach Justin Burnell as well as former England centre Ollie Smith and there is a lot to be done before then with London Welsh getting back into the Premiership.
“Going into the play-off it wasn’t so much the chance to compete in Europe that was on our minds as restoring Premiership status and the aim now to finish at least 11th and consolidate.
“At the same time it is going to be exciting to play in Europe and return to Edinburgh where a lot of my family and friends are. It will be the second season running having encountered Accies in the British and Irish Cup at Raeburn Place.”
With due respect to Accies, Ross is in no doubt this will be a considerable step up.
“I watched Edinburgh beating Ospreys at Meggetland during what was really their re-building year,” he said.
“Having gone through that they’ll be stronger with new players settled under a new management. Edinburgh are also getting some good young Scots into the mix, so we will be under no illusions regarding what we are up against.”
At the same time Ross has plenty of faith in a London Welsh who, for a spell during their promotion surge, called upon ex-Heriot’s second row Ian Nimmo.
“Beating Bristol in the play-off was reward for the amount of effort that went in not only in matches and training but in research carried out, too.
“Some new players will be coming in and we have to take note of rules regarding a specific quota of English qualified.
“Nevertheless, the aim is to build on what has just been achieved with a powerful pack and really willing backs.
“Conditions in the play-offs were bad – though not as bad as when we played Accies! – but our backs adapted with their kick chasing to upset Bristol.
“It wasn’t glamorous, but had to be done and we proved very effective over the two legs.
“Set piece dominance is very important in England and that is something we will bring to the European campaign.”
There is also a piquancy about Ross’s London Welsh encountering Edinburgh in the first season his hometown team have dropped down to the second tier. In 1997 Ross kicked a late goal to clinch a first ever win on foreign soil, by 27-25 at Biarritz, before the team had to be escorted from the pitch under a barrage of debris!
“Things have changed so much since I left Edinburgh in 2002 and there are certainly none of my old team-mates still on the books,” continued Ross, whose prowess across all sports led to sobriquet of “Ross of the Rovers”.
“I always enjoy going back, but I’m committed to London Welsh and a new career in coaching having finally – I think – managed to take a step back from playing.”
The forthcoming matches will be Edinburgh’s first encounters with London Welsh and the same applies to the two other teams in the group, Lyon and Bordeaux Begles.