Let’s be honest shall we? Hands up who’s bored to tears by Ross Ford? I thought so. He seems like a nice guy and is certainly a big, powerful unit, but at the moment he just isn’t the dynamic, in-form international hooker Scotland needs. His underwhelming form in the World Cup, the last (few) 6 Nations and more recently the Autumn Tests has shown little consistency or improvement on the player who was once such a good prospect. Andy Robinson tried making him captain and even ‘resting’ him for the debacle against Tonga but to no avail. In actual fact, the recent deterioration in accuracy of Scotland’s line-out may suggest he’s going backwards in terms of progress and development.
Half of the battle seems to be the lack of any real pressure for his place in the national side. So who are the contenders for Scotland at hooker?
Close your eyes and try to remember all the times Ford has gotten the ball for Scotland in open play. It’s not hard, it happens quite often; but now try to visualise him passing the ball or off-loading. Difficult isn’t it? That’s because it rarely happens. What usually happens is he trucks it up, gets nailed and makes about a metre of gain. This is fine for statistics but for overall team strategy it’s a killer. The one-time British & Irish Lion needs to find some creativity and dynamism from somewhere because currently he looks like a prop playing at hooker. However, he will inevitably still start all Scotland’s 6N matches.
A solid player and a good pro but simply not a world-class hooker. He does his dirty work, gets about the park and his line-out is the most trustworthy we have but he fails to excite, inspire or create when in the number two shirt. True world-class hookers are like a fourth back-row whilst being destructive in the scrum. Hall offers neither of those aspects. Will still probably make the bench though.
Although he has recently remedied his alarming habit of making critical errors when brought on as a sub for Scotland his sheer lack of bulk at International level will always catch him out against the scrummaging powerhouses of the likes of France, Italy or South Africa. He has been playing consistently well in the Premiership for Gloucester and London Irish respectively for a number of seasons now but just can’t seem to transfer this onto the field for Scotland. Can’t see him unseating Ford but may oust Hall on the bench.
Made his latest comeback last week for Edinburgh and is a well-regarded player but simply hasn’t got enough back-to-back Edinburgh games under his belt to make a decent assessment of whether he’d do any good for his country. Currently in big danger of becoming the next Andy Kelly and failing to kick his career forward in favour of the comforts of bench warming for Edinburgh. Contract extensions and continued faith hint at something better though. Time will tell which way he goes but for now he’s not at the races.
Much has been prophesised about young Pat and his fledgling performances for the Warriors have certainly shown promise. May make the squad if an injury occurs to the incumbent trio but more likely to go with the A team for the big game against the Saxons. Gave Ford a tough time in the first of the 1872 games but not quite ready to take his Scotland shirt, not just yet anyway.
The Next Crop
Alun Walker, Finlay Gillies, Fergus Scott and George Turner are all in development with the Scottish pro-teams. It’s great to have so many young Scottish hookers all coming through and Gillies in particular looks the part. However, it will take a number of seasons to decide whether or not we have a ‘golden generation’ of lynchpins to look forward to.
Okay I’m going to put this out there now. I think Scotland and Edinburgh missed a big trick when they let Sean Crombie go. When I look now at Andy Titterall playing for Edinburgh I don’t see anything he does as being better than what could have been achieved by a better developed and fully nurtured Sean Crombie. For inventiveness around the field, powerful breaks and sheer try scoring nous he should have never been allowed to leave.
In the meantime, the best we can hope for is that the re-introduction of Stevie Scott to the position of line-out coach can help Ross Ford regain his consistency in the set-piece, which then maybe leads to some confidence and hunger in the rest of his performances. Maybe one day, chucking him the ball in the midfield won’t be akin to throwing it into an empty phone box. Here’s hoping for all our sakes. For now my reluctant choice at hooker for Scotland is Ross Ford.
Team so far: Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Rob Harley