Ross Ford, the Scotland hooker who started the season in pole position to join the British and Irish Lions in South Africa but ended it so far off the pace that he was lapped by three rivals, last night learned he would make the trip to Springbok country after all.
The 25-year-old from Edinburgh beat Rory Best, the in-form Ulsterman, to the place vacated by the stricken Jerry Flannery, who suffered a serious elbow injury in training on Wednesday.
At 6ft 1ins, Ford is unusually tall for a hooker – certainly, he has a height advantage over Best – and his selection is in keeping with the Lions' size-driven approach to selection. His chances of making the Test side ahead of two significantly smaller candidates, the diminutive Lee Mears and the comparatively lightweight Matthew Rees, will be enhanced by his close working relationship with the favourite for the tight-head prop position, Euan Murray, alongside whom he plays at international level.
Ian McGeechan, the Lions head coach, was still feeling the negative effects of Flannery's injury yesterday, describing the abrasive Munster hooker as "terrific" and praising him, in valedictory tones, for his performances over the last nine months. "Jerry anchored the Ireland scrum during their Grand Slam campaign and it is disappointing that his season should have ended with a pre-tour injury," he said. "But 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. We are focused on moving forward and Ross will naturally slot straight in."
McGeechan has still to decide on the 37th and final member of the party – an outside back who will travel as a result of injury problems that are keeping the Cardiff Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny in Wales for the first two weeks of the 10-match trip. Delon Armitage, a full-back and outside centre rather than a wing, has been widely tipped to make the cut, not least because his long-range goal-kicking mirrors that provided by Halfpenny and might prove extremely handy in South African conditions, particularly in the thin air of the veld grasslands.
However, one of McGeechan's fellow Scots, the experienced Chris Paterson, has played a good deal of Test rugby on the wing and can reasonably claim to be the most reliable marksman in the world game. Paterson went through the 2007 World Cup, at which Scotland reached the quarter-finals, without missing the sticks, and he has barely let a kick slip by since.
Deeply unfortunate not to have toured New Zealand with the Lions in 2005 – he was one of the few not to feature in Sir Clive Woodward's bloated squad – his credentials are not entirely lost on this year's coaches.
It has been a difficult few weeks for the Lions since the announcement of the original 37 late last month. Within a few hours of being confirmed on the trip, the Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary did himself a mischief during a Celtic League game and was forced to make way for Scotland's Mike Blair.
Tom Shanklin, an experienced midfield hand, then suffered a nasty shoulder injury while on duty for Cardiff Blues and was told he would spend June in plaster rather than in Africa. There were more problems, this time of the disciplinary kind, when the Munster flanker Alan Quinlan picked up a 12-week ban for gouging. Tom Croft, probably the unluckiest of those to miss out on the initial draft, was promoted when Quinlan failed to have his suspension overturned on appeal.Reuse content