WHEN you fall off the horse, it’s best to get back in the saddle as soon as possible. That’s the conventional wisdom anyway, and that was Jonny Gray’s initial feeling after Scotland’s traumatic World Cup.
But wiser counsel prevailed, and the Glasgow lock was told by the management that he should have an extended post-tournament break before returning to action. The best part of two months later, Gray, who is expected to make his first Warriors appearance of the season against Leinster on Saturday, appreciates that having extra time for recovery was indeed the best thing for him after the national team’s elimination by Japan.
“It was a pretty dark time for everyone, as you can imagine,” the forward said this week. “We went out there to do a job and didn’t. That was hugely disappointing.
“It was a strange feeling, a lot of things going through your head after the World Cup disappointment. A lot of hurt and a lot of things to get through mentally, so the first thing you want to do is get back playing.
“You want to get straight back into it, train and play, focus on what you do. I got told I had a rest and had to get my head round that – but now that I’ve had that time, yeah, I realise it was probably good to have that break.
“It was good to switch off mentally. Physically, I was working with the coaches and trainers telling me what to do to keep ticking over. I feel good, the body feels good, mentally I can’t wait to get back in. I’ve been watching the boys here and feeling the buzz around the club and getting ribbed a lot for having extra time off.
“It’s great to be back in contention for this week. I can’t wait to get back to playing. I’ve been back in the last two weeks – as soon as you get back in, though I have felt this for a while, you want to get back into playing straight away.”
With Scotland captain Stuart McInally in the Edinburgh line-up for their Friday-night game at Munster, Gray is the last member of the national squad to return to action barring those who are carrying injuries. Given the length of this season, he may well be doubly grateful of the enforced break come May or June, even if at the time he was surprised to learn that he was being sidelined for nearly seven weeks.
“It just came out,” he recalled. “I didn’t really have time to think. and then we all got given individual plans and had to sit and work with that. Thankfully I could sit down with the coaches, trainers and the rest to make a plan on how we could go forward. I feel in a good place now – it’s good to be back and being made fun of a lot. It’s good training and getting back into it.”
Gray is not exactly being eased back into action either: the Leinster game is as tough as they come in the league, and with a 14-point deficit to make up on the Irish side in PRO14 Conference A, it is a match that the Warriors could really do with winning.
“Leinster, you see every week how good they are and the depth they have in their squad,” he continued. “They have players everywhere who can cause a lot of damage – internationals and players throughout the whole squad who have played in Europe and been dominant there and in the league. They’re first in our pool as well so we know how big a challenge it’s going to be back here at home with the way they hold on to the ball, apply lots of pressure and how clinical they are as a team.”
This will be the first time the teams have met since last season’s final at Celtic Park, a match that acts as a reminder to Gray and his team-mates – not that they need one – that Saturday’s clash is going to be a pretty demanding affair. “That’s another hurt. The final, all credit to Leinster – it shows how clinical they are and how they put pressure on us and we came up short.”