Ford adamant side can beat Italy
March 13, 2012
Ross Ford is adamant his side have the game to beat Italy © Getty Images
Scotland skipper Ross Ford is in a bullish mood ahead of their wooden spoon encounter with Italy and is adamant that his side are desperate to end their campaign with a win.
After promising showings, albeit in defeat, against England, Wales and France, Scotland's progress was brought to an abrupt halt by a 32-14 loss in Dublin. The result extended Scotland's winless run to six matches, handed head coach Andy Robinson a record of 11 losses in 14 Six Nations fixtures and meant for the third successive year a win on the final weekend of the championship is a must to avoid the ignominy of finishing sixth.
Scotland now require a first win in Rome since 2006 to finish fifth ahead of the Azzurri. Ford was bullish about his side's prospects and denied the coaching reshuffle at the Scottish Rugby Union was having an on-field impact as Scotland bid to win for the first time since the Rugby World Cup, where they were eliminated at the group stages for the first time.
"I don't think things have gone wrong off the pitch," said the hooker, who described the performance in Ireland as "unacceptable". "Things on the pitch haven't been ideal but we've shown a lot of improvements from where we were last season.
"We could have had more wins than we have just now, but it's down to our own doing. The boys are just desperate to get a win for all that effort we've put in - we need something to show for it.
"We've had opportunities when we could've won two out of the four games, but as it is we're going to Rome and we need to get this win. It's all in our hands. We've got the game to beat Italy."
There are concerns Robinson, who is contracted until the 2015 World Cup, might resign if Scotland lose at Stadio Olimpico, thereby extending their run to seven straight losses for the first time since 1998. However, Robinson is understood to have support from SRU chiefs and the indications are that he is planning for the future, with former Ospreys coach Scott Johnson announced as senior assistant coach late last year and set to arrive for the summer tour.
Further coaching reform has emerged during the Six Nations in timing far from ideal. On the morning of the Wales match last month it was revealed defence coach Graham Steadman's contract was not being renewed and Rome is to be his final match in the role.
The SRU this week confirmed Matt Taylor is to move from Queensland, where he has been defence coach of Super 15 side the Reds, to succeed Steadman and will also work with Glasgow Warriors. Italy will also be Scotland attack coach Gregor Townsend's final game before he takes over as head coach at Glasgow, with incumbent Sean Lineen taking on a recruitment role.
Ford was adamant the changes have not been a distraction. He said: "We're all professional players. We've got a big game this weekend and that's our sole focus."
Ford was at a loss to explain the Aviva Stadium defeat but has vowed Scotland will respond. He said: "We've been wondering where that game, where that performance came from, because it's not what we've shown in this championship. It was nowhere near where we need to be.
"We let ourselves down on Saturday, but we're well aware we've got the ability to win the game (against Italy)."
Ford insisted Scotland will stay true to the expansive game which has brought plaudits, but few rewards, thus far. He added: "We've got to make sure we play with a pace that they can't keep up with, we keep the ball for long periods of time and convert that pressure into a result on the scoreboard."
Robinson is set to name his team tomorrow, with at least one change necessary after it was confirmed wing Lee Jones will miss out with concussion sustained against Ireland. Full-back Stuart Hogg (shoulder and groin), centre/wing Max Evans (calf), scrum-half Mike Blair (shoulder) and flanker John Barclay (ribs) were set to train today.
Centre Nick De Luca was a late withdrawal from the team in Dublin, having failed a fitness test in the warm-up, but is making progress from his hamstring injury. However, there was sufficient concern for Robinson to call up three additional players - Worcester centre Alex Grove, who has three caps, Bath full-back/wing Jack Cuthbert, who has one, and uncapped Glasgow Warriors full-back/centre Peter Murchie.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament
A selection of the best pictures from England's historic World Cup triumph in Paris as they beat Canada 21-9
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Women's World Cup, the opening round of the Top 14 and the Rugby Championship