GREGOR TOWNSEND has told journalists in Georgia that Richie Gray declined two invites to be part of Scotland’s World Cup training squad. The second-row knocked back an approach before the initial 44-man group was announced in May, and did so again when contacted following Sam Skinner’s hamstring injury last weekend, it has been reported.
It was announced on Tuesday that Glasgow Warriors back-five player Tim Swinson had been “invited to train with Scotland’s wider squad” after Skinner was forced to pull out of the World Cup. That same day, assistant coach Danny Wilson revealed that Gray had been sounded out but had chosen not to be parachuted in, although he was vague on the chronology of the conversations between head coach Townsend and the second-row. Townsend has now clarified the situation.
“I did speak to him about being in the squad back then [in May] and he declined that opportunity,” Townsend told The Times newspaper and a freelance journalist who are in Tbilisi covering the team’s third World Cup warm-up match against Georgia tomorrow [Saturday] evening. “That was understandable with the season he had and the commitment that players in France have to give. It was more understandable, let’s say.”
After an injury-ravaged couple of years, Gray battled back to fitness to be involved in Stade Toulousain’s march to the French Top 14 title last season, with the final against ASM Clermont not being played until 15th June. Plus, he and wife, Ellie, recently had their first child.
Three months on, and despite the French season having already kicked off, Townsend was hopeful last week that the 30-year-old would now be ready to jump at the chance of getting back involved at international level.
Gray has been capped 65 times since his debut back in 2010, bit has only played one game for Scotland – off the bench against Italy during the 2018 Six Nations – in the last 29 months.
“I did get the feeling when I chatted to him after Sam’s injury that this would be different because we’d done the six weeks of training,” said Townsend. “He’s not had to be over [training] in Portugal and Scotland away from his new family. He also felt better physically than at the end of the season.
“But, after reflection, when he got back to me his decision was the same. It’s a big commitment and we need people who are 100 per cent committed to the training, to playing well, to going to Japan if selected and being out there for a number of weeks. He wasn’t able to do that and we’ve got a group of players here who are desperate to do that.”
Townsend added that if Gray had agreed to join he squad less than a month before the tournament kicks off, he could still have made the plane to Japan.
“Anybody we brought into the squad would have had a chance, and I did say that to Richie,” he insisted. “Because he played a game last weekend and has been able to do a bit of training, he was in a position to grab his opportunity with us. His decision, for other reasons, was that he didn’t feel he could make the commitment.”
The coach also said that this snub will not necessarily rule him out of future involvement with the Scotland set-up.
“If he’s playing really well, and merits getting called up into our squad whether it’s Six Nations or summer tour next year, he’d be in consideration,” he said.