Ross Ford’s 100 caps will amount to 99 per cent of the experience in the Scotland front row on Saturday against Australia as Vern Cotter’s selection illustrates the gaping holes in the strength in depth in his squad.
Four players with just four replacement appearances between them are required for the opening Autumn Test of 2016, with just one brief substitute appearance between props Alan Dell and Zander Fagerson supporting the veteran Ford in the front row.
Huw Jones, who made a replacement appearance in Scotland’s last test against Japan, and Hamish Watson, who has two caps as a substitute and is the only outright preference selection not forced by injury, are the others making their first start for their country.
The spine of the team remains the same, with the only other selection issue being Tommy Syemour’s absence due to a personal issue. Sean Maitland was due to return anyway, and Tim Visser stays on the left wing.
Ford is an important part of that spine. The 32-year-old hooker is just the third Scot to reach the century of caps and the first forward to do so, following Chris Paterson and Sean Lamont. He has no plans to stop, so it seems likely that he’ll surpass Paterson’s all-time record of 109 at some point despite greater competition for hooker with Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally challenging.
“It’s a massive honour, to be the first forward to get to that point representing my country is a great experience, and hopefully it will continue for a while longer yet,” he said.
It started against the Wallabies as a replacement in 2004, when all Ford remembers is throwing at his first lineout, peeling around the tail and getting “emptied” by a defender in gold and green waiting for him.
“I have come full circle. It doesn’t feel like a long time and I feel fresh and sprightly, but when you talk about 12 years you realise it has been a fairly long time,” he continued.
“Always try to learn new things and develop your game,” he said, when asked what he’d advise his 20-year-old self.
“The game’s always evolving. Hooker is not just throwing and scrumming; it’s all about ball skills. You can never rest on your laurels, you always need to keep pushing yourself in training.”
Ford’s responsibility is to nurse two callow props in Dell, the 24-year-old from Edinburgh who is the only new cap in the starting line-up, and Fagerson, the hugely promising 20-year-old from Kirriemuir who had a brief look at the international game during the Calcutta Cup in February.
“It is Delly’s first cap and Zander’s first start, but both have been playing well for their clubs,” said Ford. “It is a matter of getting them in the right frame of mind and getting them through the game to do a good job.
“If I can help out, whether it is tweaking a few things in the game, or doing something different with a solution to what Australia are doing, then I will try to do that.
“The key for them is to just go out there and enjoy it. There is no point getting too worried or getting too far away. Try and treat it as another game.
“They are a good Australia side and showed they can be really good when they have space and time to play like they did against Wales.
“But we’ve beaten Australia in my time and we came close last time we played them. We have nothing to fear. We did well in the World Cup and did not let the occasion get to us. We just have to go out and express ourselves.”