ROSS Ford will tonight overtake an Edinburgh record set by his new coach, but of more interest to the club is whether the pair can inspire an upturn in fortunes in the capital.
The squad flew to Italy on Wednesday to prepare for their match with Zebre in Parma having halted the run of defeats on 11 with a hard-fought 14-8 victory against recent league leaders Ulster at Murrayfield. It was a result that helped Scottish rivals Glasgow remain in the hunt for the title, despite losing at Leinster, but Edinburgh are now focused on helping themselves to continue the run over the final four games and provide fresh hope for next season.
Ford is a key part of that.
Tonight he will make his 100th appearance for Edinburgh, passing Stevie Scott’s 99 between 1998 and 2002, which was the previous best by a hooker, albeit, when Scott played, the team was initially Edinburgh Reivers. Now the two Borderers are at the vanguard of a process to turn the club around, Scott off the pitch as interim head coach and Ford on it as one of the key leaders in the team.
Scott is certainly glad of Ford’s assistance as he bids to prove that he has the coaching qualities to effect change. He stated: “Ross has been an exceptional servant to Edinburgh and Scottish Rugby, keeping himself in immense mental and physical condition throughout a very distinguished career to date.
“He’s a fantastic character and role model to young players and shows the relentless dedication you would expect from someone who has won 69 caps, captained his country and toured with the British Lions. It’s great to have someone of his calibre reach such a milestone at the club.”
Ford is one of four Scotland internationalists returning to the starting line-up following last weekend’s win over Ulster and so he is under pressure to maintain the feelgood factor quickly sparked by Scott and assistant coach Duncan Hodge.
The new coaches worked well into the early hours last Saturday morning reviewing the win and presented to the players later that morning, which is a new approach, and the players enjoyed some time off on Sunday.
Scott was at Netherdale on Saturday afternoon to watch two of his old clubs, Gala and Melrose, in a Premiership match. It was part of his desire to get around club grounds in Edinburgh, the Borders and Caledonia and familiarise himself with leading club players who could be ready for the step-up to the pro ranks if he was to be handed a role with Edinburgh long-term.
He insists he is not looking beyond the end of this season, and, having been impressed by the quality of the players on the training ground, and compared them favourably with the squad he worked with at Sale, Scott and Hodge are striving to instil in the squad the belief that they have the ability to be part of the future at the club, and a successful future. Training, he said, had gone well this week and, with Tim Visser, Matt Scott and captain Greig Laidlaw returning to the side, as well as lock Perry Parker – Grant Gilchrist is missing due to a family bereavement – there is an optimism that the team can finish a miserable season strongly in games with Zebre, Connacht, Treviso and the Dragons and finish with some mid-table respectability, in seventh.
Scott insisted the focus did not reach further than tonight, however, with Zebre naming a strong side full of internationalists who impressed with Italy in the Six Nations and led by their own returning skipper Marco Bortolami, as they, surprisingly, seek a first win of the season. New Irish referee Sean Gallagher also takes charge of his first PRO12 match.
Scott added: “The players and management were delighted to get a great win over a high-flying Ulster side last weekend, but we haven’t dwelt on it. We reviewed the game as normal and got back to work. What we’ve focused on is the importance of following up that performance and result. We set the bar for an Edinburgh Rugby performance last week and we are here to improve on that showing.”
Edinburgh Rugby team v Zebre, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday 29 April (kick-off 7pm local time, 6pm GMT)
15 Greig Tonks
14 Lee Jones
13 Matt Scott
12 Ben Atiga
11 Tim Visser
10 Piers Francis
9 Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN
1 Allan Jacobsen
2 Ross Ford
3 Willem Nel
4 Perry Parker
5 Sean Cox
6 Stuart McInally
7 Ross Rennie
8 Netani Talei
16 Steven Lawrie
17 John Yapp
18 Geoff Cross
19 Robert McAlpine
20 Hamish Watson
21 Sean Kennedy
22 Harry Leonard
23 Tom Brown