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Ford needs to keep tight grip on jersey

Ross Ford cut an embattled figure for much of last year, captaining Scotland through an RBS 6 Nations "whitewash" in its early part then, after brief respite on their winning summer tour, losing his starting place for the first time in years towards its end.

Ross Ford knows that having to fight tooth and nail for your place is just another part of the gospel according to Scott Johnson. Picture: SNS
Ross Ford knows that having to fight tooth and nail for your place is just another part of the gospel according to Scott Johnson. Picture: SNS

In fairness, the Borderer is an unlikely candidate to don hat and tails and tap dance his way into any public gathering, but he seemed to have perked up a bit this week as he reflected upon what has become the relatively rare experience for a front-row forward of playing a full 80 minutes Test rugby in the win over Italy.

"I had a wee bit cramp against Italy but I managed to last 80 minutes, which is the first time I've done that for a couple of months. I was pretty happy. I came out the other end, so it was good," he said.

There were words of consolation for Glasgow Warriors' Pat MacArthur, who was denied the opportunity that has helped Dougie Hall and Scott Lawson accumulate some 76 caps between them while starting a combined total of only three games in the past six years.

"I saw Pat was stripped and ready to go and I half expected to be going off, but Pat's a good player and he's only going to get better. It won't be long before he's in the team and going very well."

However, if MacArthur is to make that debut while Scott Johnson is in charge, the unequivocal message was that he will have to do it the hard way and Ford said that has been welcomed by the squad.

"Scott's point about not giving the jersey away easily fits in with the ethos of the players and what goes on in the changing room," he said. "The plaques on the wall . . . there are great players in the past that have worn the shirt. You have to earn it and have the right to wear it when you're in that jersey. You've got to give everything. It doesn't come easy.

"It's a good sentiment to have. It just makes boys on the fringes that much more hungry, and the boys in the shirt have to work a lot harder and make sure they don't drop off."

In saying so, he is candid enough to acknowledge that his own form did exactly that towards the end of his 2012 campaign, allowing Lawson only his second start since 2007 against Tonga in November, then Hall to make his first since that year against England last month.

"I think you just sometimes lose form. For all the will in the world and all the hard work, sometimes it just doesn't happen," Ford admitted. "I've had a bit of time off with injury and that and I just went away and did some fitness [work] and maybe I came back a bit fresher, I don't know, but I seem to have picked up a wee bit more form.

"It's good to get back in the team and play well, but I know I have to be playing a lot better and that's something I want to try to focus on and keep improving with each game."

All the more so in a British & Irish Lions year and, while he is the only member of Scotland's squad for Sunday's match to have sampled the Lions experience, the 2009 tourist recognises that earning that jersey is the greatest accolade of all.

"It's a great privilege to be there and you want to be picked, but I've just got back into the side and I'm still not where I want to be standard-wise. I think I can get a lot better, so just now I'll just focus on that and hopefully start putting in some good performances and leave the rest to the selectors."

Of course, on Sunday he goes head to head with the man widely expected to be first Lions choice in his position, but, ever the team man, Ford places trying to out-do his rival within a wider context as Scotland's players seek to earn further respect along with further caps.

"You pretty much do that with all the hookers you go up against. You just say you've got to beat them to the ball and try and be one up on them the whole time," he said. "If I do that, hopefully it will play its part in allowing us to play the way we want to and put us on top. If everybody is doing their job and getting one up on their opposite number, it's going to go a long way in helping the team get the win."

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