British & Irish Lions
Ford drafted in by Lions
May 22, 2009
Edinburgh hooker Ross Ford will fly out with the rest of the squad on Sunday © Getty Images
Scotland hooker Ross Ford has been called into the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour to South Africa as a replacement for Jerry Flannery.
Ireland and Munster star Flannery tore elbow ligaments in training on Wednesday, ruling him out of the trip. Edinburgh forward Ford, 25, was thought to be close to making the original squad and his call-up today came as no surprise.
Lions tour manager Gerald Davies was also expected to name a replacement for Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny but the coaching team have delayed that announcement.
"Munster hooker Jerry Flannery tore ligaments in his left elbow in training on Wednesday that unfortunately ruled him out of the tour," said Davies. "His place in the tour squad is taken by Edinburgh's 25-year old hooker Ross Ford, who played in all five of Scotland's 2009 Six Nations championship matches."
Ford, 25, saw off competition from Ulster's Rory Best, meaning there are now four Scots in McGeechan's selection, double the initial number. Ford, who has 30 Test caps, explained he first became aware of the Lions phenomenon when, as a schoolboy, he watched television coverage of the '97 tour of South Africa.
"That would be the first time I realised just how much the Lions means," he said. "I remember buying the 'Living with the Lions' video after the tour and just about wearing it out through watching it so often - and learning a few new words from Jim Telfer too!
"To be selected is a great honour - right up there with my best rugby achievements, but until I actually play and win in the jersey, I haven't really done the hard bit yet. Of course I was disappointed to miss out on selection first time around but I just knuckled down and concentrated on doing my job for Edinburgh and it was great to finish the Magners League season on a high and secure the runners-up spot."
Scotland captain Mike Blair, himself an injury replacement for Ireland's Tomas O'Leary, said, "It will be great to have another Scottish guy in the camp and it will be a terrific challenge for Ross to join up with the Lions squad and strive to get up the pecking order."
Head coach Ian McGeechan expressed his sympathy for the injured Flannery, adding, "Jerry has had a terrific season and he anchored the Irish scrum during Ireland's Six Nations Grand Slam season. It is disappointing that after selection for the Lions his season should end with a pre-tour injury.
"Injuries are a part of the game and, while very distressing for the affected player, we as a squad have to accept them as a fact of life. It is a part of the game we play. We are focused on moving forward, concentrating on the task at hand and the first match. Ross is a terrific player and he will naturally slot straight in as hooker. I look forward to welcoming him into camp tonight."
Flannery was the fourth player originally named in the squad to have been ruled out of the entire tour. He was set to undergo surgery today after visiting a specialist yesterday but Halfpenny remains part of the squad. The Cardiff Blues back requires intensive treatment on a thigh injury and will not travel to Johannesburg with the touring party on Sunday evening.
Halfpenny is expected to be sidelined for around a fortnight and he will join the squad in South Africa if his recovery goes to plan. But with the Lions facing such a short build-up to the first Test and Halfpenny likely to be unavailable for the first two tour matches, McGeechan has decided to call up a replacement back.
England fullback Delon Armitage is considered favourite not only because he can cover the back three and outside centre but because he offers the Lions a goalkicking option. The Lions are only travelling with two front-line kickers in fly-halves Stephen Jones and Ronan O'Gara, with Riki Flutey and Halfpenny to provide back-up.
With goal-kicking a prerequisite, other potential candidates could include Wales' James Hook, Scotland's Chris Paterson or England reject Danny Cipriani.
Replacement: Mike Blair (Scotland)
Replacement: None selected
Replacement: Tom Croft (England)
Replacement: Ross Ford (Scotland)
Replacement: James Hook (Wales)