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Captain Ford finds his voice as Robinson's embattled men look to salvage some pride in Rome

When Ross Ford leads his men into Rome tomorrow, he could be tempted to head directly to the Vatican and offer praise to God for the inclusion of Italy in the RBS 6 Nations Championship.

Scotland captain Ross Ford knows his side need to beat Italy to avoid the wooden spoon. Picture: SNS
Scotland captain Ross Ford knows his side need to beat Italy to avoid the wooden spoon. Picture: SNS

Had this never become a six-nation competition then Scotland's championship record this Millennium would make even more pitiful reading and without Italian involvement they would already have secured a ninth wooden spoon since the turn of the century.

The captain made his own championship debut as a replacement in 2006, the only season in which they have won more Six Nations matches than they have lost, and they would not be able to make that claim either were it not for a win over Italy. They did collect a wooden spoon the following season, during which Ford made his first championship start and he would now have a rackful of five of them had it not been for the Italians.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is that almost half of Scotland's championship wins over those 13 seasons – seven in all – have come against the Italians; their 52 matches against the other four nations in the competition– which they won in 1999 – having produced a total of eight wins.

Given those statistics, it is remarkable Scotland have only been whitewashed once in that period, in 2004, when there were uncanny parallels to this season as Scotland emerged from a dreadful World Cup campaign. Thereafter Edinburgh astonished us by reaching the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup but, under a rookie captain from the Borders in Chris Paterson, Scotland failed to win a match.

Then, as now, the national side were coached by a non-Scot and, in fairness to Andy Robinson, he has always made it clear that his drive comes from professional pride, rather than trying to persuade anyone that he is some sort of born-again Scotsman.

However, that means the real identification with how supporters feel about these defeats lies with players, and those who most fervently backed the team are entitled to wonder just how much their heroes mean it when one after another lines up to claim that these defeats hurt them as much as they hurt anyone.

Since he is their on-field leader, then, it seemed fair to ask Ross Ford to quantify that and, when I put it to him in those terms yesterday, the lad from Kelso, who has worked hard to deliver more than the largely monosyllabic responses he tended to offer as one of the troops, became unusually loquacious.

Furthermore, for only the second time I can recall at a Scotland's captain's press conference, he reverted to language more likely to be overheard on a referee's mike, albeit where Budge Pountney's expletive a decade ago came across as petulant, Ford's tone was embattled.

"After the game I was raging with the performance," he said of Saturday's defeat. "Everybody was. It is f***ing annoying. It is hard to put into words. The feeling is we can see what we are trying to do, what our style of play can create. To not do that for the Ireland game was the worst I have felt in a game for a long time.

"I thought we had gone beyond dropping our level so much. For all the effort we are putting in, when we play well and push ourselves to the absolute limits the opposite team must be struggling. Teams have struggled against us but we have let them off. That is why teams have won against us, because we have not sustained it for 80 minutes.

"It does not get any easier when you put in all that hard work and push your body to the limit. Through our errors we have let teams in, so there is a real resolve to string it together for 80 minutes and get consistency. In the first half of the championship the game plan was there and we have slowly built on it. We need to get to that point again. We cannot have blips like Ireland. That is an unacceptable performance. Players have to make sure they push the standard up and keep pushing.

"If it is only a 50-minute performance that is unacceptable. We have to keep upping it to 65, to 70, to 80 minutes to keep blowing teams away. That is the resolve within the team to get to that level consistently. That is how we will get ourselves in a better position."

It is the longest answer to a question Ford has delivered and he did so having just emerged from one of the hardest scrummaging sessions he can remember enduring, though he did say it lasted 25 minutes which would probably have been the warm-up during the Jim Telfer regime.

That those words poured out of him in that way offered a true sense of how he and at least some of his men are feeling about going from a squad that was considered Scotland's strongest ever going to the World Cup, to a team battling to avoid dropping to a record low of 12th place in the world rankings.

However, professional players are also trained to seek consistency of approach and clarity of thinking, so Ford's response was more predictable when asked how he felt about going into what may be his last appearance as captain still looking for his first win.

"My preparation stays the same," he said. "I want to win as captain but the whole team wants to win. This game does not change my preparations. It is about me getting the boys up for the game and making sure that the details are covered and we keep up the performance for 80 minutes.

"It's difficult. You take it a wee bit more personally because you are the leader of the team. I can't feel sorry for myself for too long.

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