Cross hopes to prop up Scotland’s bid

Scotland's (left-right) Allan Jacobsen, Geoff Cross and Ross Ford during the team announcement at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Scotland's (left-right) Allan Jacobsen, Geoff Cross and Ross Ford during the team announcement at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

IT takes a certain type of person to survive as a prop forward in a scrum.

However, it takes a completely different character altogether to describe life in the front row as “fun”.

With around 90 stone pushing behind you, and another 140 stone grinding the other way, it sounds to most as enjoyable as a night on the tiles with X-Factor duds Jedward.

But for Geoff Cross, it is as much the mental challenge as the physical which builds his job satisfaction while playing for Edinburgh and Scotland.

“The scrum is such a technical, challenging and intense place,” said Cross, a former Galashiels Academy pupil.

“There is also an emotional element where you look to dominate a large group of the other team’s players and the challenge is that they are looking to do the same to you.

“You have to play to your strengths while maximising their weaknesses – it is good fun to work that out.”

The 28-year-old did not get to his first World Cup, beginning this Saturday against Romania, by a normal route, but then he is not a conventional rugby player.

A qualified doctor, the former Border Reiver is one of 10 siblings, six of which have gone into medicine.

He struggled for a time to even get a game at Edinburgh, before being catapulted into his international debut against Wales in 2009’s Six Nations at Murrayfield.

His tears while singing Flower of Scotland will long be remembered, but probably not by Cross as he was knocked out when tackling Lee Bryne in mid-air, and received a yellow card while lying stricken on a stretcher.

But two-and-a-half years on, he has turned his career around and a man-of-the-match performance secured his spot on the plane to New Zealand.

He is looking forward, not just to his World Cup debut, but also to returning to the Land of the Long White Cloud, having previously spent nearly a year in Otago.

“I am very excited,” said Cross. “I have been working towards playing in the World Cup for a long time and I have worked hard to achieve it.

“I spent 11 months in New Zealand around 2001 and it was time well spent. I am looking forward to going back and enjoying and experiencing the country outside of the rugby.

“What struck me was how concentrated and focused players were, even at under-18 level.

“They showed me that if you put in the work you get your rewards.

“I played age-group matches in Otago with Adam Thomson, who is now in the New Zealand squad, and Ti’i Paolo who was in the Samoa team who played Scotland at Aberdeen last season.

“Rugby is a small world and it is great to see these guys coming through to play for their national team.”

Another Borderer with less happy memories of New Zealand is John Rutherford. The Selkirk stand-off’s first World Cup match with France in Christchurch lasted just minutes before his anterior cruciate ligament ruptured, ending his career.

Looking back, Rutherford said: “I first picked up the injury in a mickey mouse game in Bermuda when I was there with Iain Paxton and Iwan Tukalo.

“But it is not really something I still think about. It was really disappointing at the time, but that is rugby.

“It is just a shame it happened in my first World Cup match.”

It is no surprise, then, that Rutherford sympathises with Hawick’s Nikki Walker – who misses out on the World Cup because of a similar knee ligament injury – as well as Jedburgh’s Greig Laidlaw, who was not selected.

He added: “I am gutted for Nikki – to be injured four minutes from the end of the Italy game when I am certain he would have been in the squad is hard to take.

“I am also gutted for Greig. It is just unfortunate he is playing at the same time as three guys with great experience at scrum half.

“I do think he merited selection in the squad, but there are four games to play in the group and there could be injuries, so he might get the call yet.

“For a player this is the pinnacle – to represent your country in a World Cup – and to do it in New Zealand, the greatest rugby nation in the world, is a fantastic challenge.

“They go there on the back of two wins, which builds some confidence, and have been lucky not to suffer too many injuries.

“I will be up watching every single Scotland game – even those with a 2am kick off.”

z Turn to page 25 for the first instalment of Stuart Cameron’s new column Stuart Down Under.