Rugby’s most capped Scotsman, Kelso legend Ross Ford, has confirmed his decision to retire from playing the sport to take up a role bringing on the next generation of young Scottish players in the Fosroc Scottish Rugby academy.
The former Pynder Park player earned his last – and record-breaking 110th – Scotland cap against Fiji on the 2017 summer tour and has brought an end to a historic career which was accompanied by close to 300 professional club games for Border Reivers and Edinburgh Rugby, and a Test appearance for the British & Irish Lions on the 2009 tour to South Africa.
Ford won his first senior cap for Scotland when he was introduced as a replacement during the opening match of the 2004 Autumn Tests against Australia at BT Murrayfield, around two years after making a positional switch from back row to hooker.
Immensely experienced in a position where weakness – physical, technical or mental – would be exposed ruthlessly, the Borders man is well placed to begin work on the next chapter of his career – helping develop the strength and conditioning of the most prominent young players in his home region.
Speaking to the Scottish Rugby website, Ford said he always enjoyed the strength/conditioning side of the sport – it was a big part of his game and he was good at it.
“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.”
Looking back on his career, Ford added: “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.
“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 (reaching 110 caps) 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 came through the system as a flanker, representing Scotland age-grade sides in the position, before deciding to swap life in the back row for the front, taking time to embrace the new set-piece burdens of the position.
Ford waited a year for a second Test appearance in the 2006 Six Nations – a just reward for a solid season with the Border Reivers – and another year for his first start, against France in Paris on the final day of the 2007 tournament.
It was from there that his career began to build serious momentum. He was again in the starting XV for the next international, the World Cup warm-up in which Scotland beat Ireland 31-21 at home, and he continued as first-choice against South Africa two weeks later.
In 2007, Ford marked his World Cup debut with a try when he appeared as a replacement in Scotland’s 56-10 win against Portugal in St Etienne.
His second international try was in Scotland’s second-Test win against Argentina in Buenos Aires in June 2008, a series he still rates among his career highlights. He was a pivotal figure as Scotland commanded the forward exchanges on their historic 2-0 tour success in Argentina.
In an early indication of what would quickly become a line of accolades, Ross became the most-capped player from the Kelso club, overtaking the ‘White Shark’, John Jeffrey.
He then became the 31st Scot to reach the landmark of 50 caps for his country when he appeared against Romania in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup 2011 campaign.
He captained Scotland for the first time in the opening game of the 2012 Six Nations Championship and led his country to a historic 9-6 victory over Australia in the first Test of the 2012 summer tour to the South Pacific, to a second Test win over Fiji and made it three-from-three with defeat of Samoa.
The now ‘stick-on’ Scotland starter surpassed Gordon Bulloch, his fellow former Scotland captain and British & Irish Lion, as Scotland’s most-capped hooker, when he won his 76th cap, enjoying victory against Argentina in the third match of Scotland’s 2014 summer tour.
Ross, whose commitment, consistency and professionalism were described by former head coach Andy Robinson as “exemplary”, can also be measured by his cap tally, comments from his peers and his appearance in a third Rugby World Cup in 2015.
It was then on the 2017 summer tour that Ford would ultimately play his last Test match, featuring in all three tests and scoring three tries – two against Italy in the series opener in Singapore and a third against Fiji on the day he made cap history in Scotland colours – overtaking the record of 109 caps held by record points’ scorer Chris Paterson since 2011.