SHARED captaincy is not new concept in Scottish rugby. Andy Robinson first ran with that approach back in 2007 when he named the injury prone but endlessly positive Simon Cross as club captain, in order to help build the off-field ethos and provide any support required by first team captain and fellow back-rower Allister Hogg.
A similar approach was adopted by Robinson after he moved on to coaching the national team, when he chose to split responsibility between Mike Blair and Chris Cusiter for the November Tests of 2009. As specialist scrum-halves, it was highly unlikely that they would both be on the park at the same time, so it was hoped that the partnership would provide focus in terms of where the leadership was coming from during the match.
The battle for the number nine jersey had not always been a positive experience for the players involved, so this was perhaps seen as a way of reassuring two of Scotland’s most influential players that they were both key figures in terms of what the team was trying to achieve.
Gregor Townsend named Peter Murchie as Glasgow Warriors’ captain at the start of last year’s campaign to cover the period when his international contingent were away at the World Cup. Once everyone was back in harness, Jonny Gray was handed the reins.
While the logic was not necessarily flawless in each of these decisions, you could certainly see where the coach was coming from.
Last week’s announcement that responsibility for leading the Warriors during this coming season will be shared between Gray and Henry Pyrgos is slightly harder to get your head around.
Both players are front-liners in their respective positions and are likely to spend a lot of time on the park together – so where does the buck stop? Having a strong leadership group is all well and good, but does there need to be a single figure at the top of the pile? Where does responsibility ultimately lie when it comes to the tough decisions which will inevitably need to be made?
Furthermore, both players can expect to be involved in the Scotland set-up this season’s season, which will surely make it even harder to circumnavigate the sense of there being a power vacuum created when so many senior players are involved in the Autumn Tests and Six Nations?
“We’ve spoken about it a little bit. It’s something that will definitely evolve because it’s not set in stone at the moment. It’s new to us but there are teams who have done it in the past, in New Zealand particularly. In certain weeks one of us will probably take the lead a little bit more depending on the game situation, referees, and things like that,” said Pyrgos.
“When I’ve captained in the past, you are not the only decision-maker. It’s not necessarily a group decision, but you usually have a quick debate about it and then go forward with the best choice. That happened last season when Jonny would usually look to another senior player,” he added.
“In any good team you don’t just have one guy who speaks and is the only guy who speaks all week. Here we have senior guys, guys with lots of caps like Cory Flynn, who is new to our squad but is really experienced, so you are always looking to others to make points throughout the week.”
Gray is a totemic presence in the Warriors squad, especially during the heat of battle when his work-ethic and sheer bloody-mindedness will often serve as a rallying call to those around him – but he is a man of action rather than words and has never made any secret of his lack of enthusiasm for the external duties which come with the job.
Earmarked as an international captain in waiting since almost day one of his senior career, it is easy to forget how much responsibility the big lock has taken on at both club and international level inside a short period of time. He is still only 22-years-old and, as Nathan Hines pointed out before the World Cup, is still learning the game.
Meanwhile, Pyrgos is much more at ease with a microphone stuck in his face, he is just about to start his seventh season as a frontline professional, and from the slightly detached position of scrum-half he will look to bring a level of calmness which was fatally missing when Gray was at the centre of the indiscipline which cost the Warriors dearly in their final league game of last season – when they lost away to Connacht and in the process sacrificed home advantage in the play-offs.
“I’ve always felt that senior players help you here [at Glasgow Warriors]. That’s the kind of culture we have at Glasgow. Everyone steps up and you never feel isolated in any situation. We are all in this together and it’s like that in training as well,” said Gray.
“There are lots of leaders in the team, like Rob Harley, Josh Strauss and other guys who have captained before. On the pitch there is always communication. But it is new to us and I’m just thrilled and honoured to be given co-captaincy,” he added.
Picture by Craig Watson Pix – www.craigwatson.co.uk