Ross Ford: I feel lucky to have played a sport that I love
It was classic Ross Ford in many ways. Everybody knew he had retired, he just hadn’t got around to saying it yet. But yesterday it was finally confirmed.
A man who never liked to make a fuss, stir the pot, or have the reporters rushing to call their sports editors with some hot copy, he just focused on his rugby and his family and let others hog the limelight.
While they did that he went on to play more international games of rugby union than any other Scotsman, a fact he surely reflects on with some much-deserved, yet characteristically humble pride.
The Kelso man amassed 110 caps for Scotland, and a British and Irish Lions Test cap in 2009, and at the age of 35 has decided, not unsurprisingly, that it’s time to call it a day.
“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,” said Ford.
“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 [breaking the caps record] 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.”
Ford earned his 110th and final Scotland cap against Fiji on the summer tour two years ago to overtake the record of fellow Borderer Chris Paterson – the Gala man eventually reaching 109 in 2011 after becoming Scotland’s first cap centurion – and he also played nearly 300 professional club games, mostly with Edinburgh, who he was with from 2007 when the SRU disbanded the Border Reivers.
“Mossy [Paterson] got over 100 and Sean Lamont [105 caps] is up over 100 as well. I never set out to get to a certain number or beat them. I just kept playing because I was enjoying it.”
The most-capped currently active Scotland players are both on 71 – the 32-year-old John Barclay and 33-year-old Greig Laidlaw.
The latter would no doubt love to put the banner of Jedburgh over Kelso on the standings but, of course, Ford’s record is likely to last for a while.
The 27-year-old Stuart Hogg on 67 may yet follow in the bootsteps of the great Jim Renwick, whose 52nd and final cap held the record in 1984, and go on to put his beloved Hawick back on top.
But this is Kelso’s moment and last year Ford was honoured at the Poynder Park ground where his career started alongside fellow Lions from the Tweedside town – Ken Smith, Alan Tait, John Jeffrey and Roger Baird.
Ford set a trend for converted back-row forwards moving up to the position of hooker, something that hopefully will be continued in the Japan World Cup later this year by his successors Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown.
Passing on the fruits of his vast experience is now the priority for Ford as he plans to take up a coaching role in the Fosroc Scottish Rugby Academy system, nurturing fresh talent from the Borders heartlands of Scottish rugby.
He said: “I always enjoyed the strength and conditioning 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.”
He came off the bench in the final Test of the Lions tour of South Africa, contributing to a 28-9 win at Ellis Park, although the series was already lost.
A cameo, yes, but not to be sniffed at these days when Scots in red jerseys are as scarce as red squirrels!
It will be the moments in dark blue that Ford will remember, from his first cap, again off the bench, against Australia at Murrayfield in November 2004 to that last cap in Fiji two summers ago.
Both of those games ended in defeat. The overall career, in triumph.