Gray relishing return to Wales after Warriors’ beating of the Blues

The Warriors and Scotland lock is confident that the Scotland team has made significant and sustained progress

Jonny Gray
Jonny Gray on the way to scoring against Cardiff. Image: © Craig Watson.

AFTER Scotland’s traumatic 34-7 defeat by Wales back in February, you might expect a return visit to Cardiff would come accompanied by a trigger warning for some members of the squad. But for the Glasgow contingent at least, the trip to the Welsh capital next weekend will bring back memories that are both more pleasant and more recent, thanks to their Champions Cup win over the Blues just last weekend.

That result eight months ago was just about the worst possible start to the Six Nations Championship for Gregor Townsend’s team, but a lot of rugby has been played since then, and Jonny Gray, for one, is confident that the team has made significant and sustained progress since. “It’s something you don’t forget,” the Warriors lock said on Monday at the national squad’s training camp in St Andrews. “It wasn’t good.

“It was just the way they played – how strong they were up front, their strike runners, the way they can attack from anywhere. It was disappointing that day, but we’ve improved a lot since then. It’s what’s great about Glasgow and here at Scotland: the culture is all about improving every day. We have improved, although we know we’ll have to improve a lot more to get a result next week.”

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There is no guarantee that Scotland will play well in their first Autumn Test on Saturday week just because Glasgow did so a fortnight previously, but that 29-12 win against Cardiff can surely be allowed to count as a good omen. The Blues had got off to an excellent start in Pool Three, having won in Lyon, while Glasgow had lost a bruising encounter with Saracens. The pressure was therefore very much on Dave Rennie’s team, but they rose to the occasion, with Gray himself scoring the fourth, bonus-point try.

“The Saracens game was disappointing,” the 24-year-old reflected. “Lot of effort there, but, playing against one of the best if not the best, we came up short ultimately. We knew it was a big pressure game, especially after their win in Lyon. We had to perform in a whole number of areas, but we’re happy to do that.

“It’s good to come into camp on the back of wins like that, but we’re playing Wales, and the last time we played them they beat us, and they played really well. There were a few things we were disappointed with that day.”

Gray on Gray

One current disappointment for Gray is the absence from the Scotland squad of his elder brother Richie. The 29-year-old is out with a back injury – just one of several ailments to restrict his playing time over the past 18 months or so – but Jonny is confident he will recover well.

“Gutted for him. First of all, I miss the chance to see him – it’s been a while. He came back and now to get this injury, obviously I wish him all the luck with his recovery. But Richie’s one of the most determined guys I know, having grown up with him. As I’ve said before, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be playing pro rugby probably. It’s a tough one for him to take, but I’m sure he’ll battle back and hopefully this is the last of a bad run he’s had.

“He’ll do his recovery and everything he has to go through. He’s very determined and he’ll be very focused. When you speak to Rich he won’t give much away, but he’s a very determined guy.”

With Richie out injured and Exeter Chiefs lock Sam Skinner unavailable for the Wales game as it takes place outside the international window, Edinburgh duo Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist are the two men competing with the younger Gray for a place in the second row.  Blade Thomson, one of three uncapped members of the squad along with Skinner and Sam Johnson, can fill in at lock, but has been playing at No 8 and blindside at club level. Scarlets have refused to release Thomson for the Wales game, but he was able to attend the Scotland camp, and Gray has been impressed by his attitude both there and on the pitch.

“I’ve seen him a couple of games for Scarlets. Obviously his skill set, and his work in the lineout, he’s a very good lineout forward as well. His tackling and defence. Across the board he’s a phenomenal player, a great athlete and it’s great to have a guy like that here. He’s just a really good guy, really approachable.

“These guys come in and fit straight in. Just really approachable guys and it’s good to hear what they do, their insights and things, and how they do things. It’s a good atmosphere in the squad, it’s really competitive on the training pitch but afterwards we sit down, look at things and say “that’s what works for me, and this is the way I do this” it’s great for learning, which is what it’s all about.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1437 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.