RICHIE GRAY says that he has not given up on the prospect of adding to the 67 caps he has picked up for Scotland so far, but that will be subject to on-going conversations with national team head coach Gregor Townsend.
The Glasgow Warriors second-row has managed only three appearances off the bench for the national team since Gregor Townsend became head coach in the summer of 2017.
While injury issues have contributed to this situation, Gray did turn down two separate invites to be part of Scotland’s 2019 World Cup training squad because he did not feel he could commit to being away from his family, including his new-born son, during the build-up and duration of the tournament.
He returned to the squad and played two matches off the bench during the 2021 Six Nations before missing the rest of he championship with a concussion, but then opted not to make himself available for the recent Autumn Test series.
“I had [ankle] surgery in the summer, didn’t take a huge amount of time off and worked pretty hard to get back fit,” he explained. “Then I went seven games on the bounce with Glasgow at the start of the season, so I just felt I was in a place where I needed a bit of a break before going again.
“I had some good conversations with the management, and they respected my decision. There are more conversations to be had, so we’ll see what happens going forward.”
Gray’s availability for Scotland this Autumn would have been a handy given that second-row were stretched. His brother, Jonny, was out with a shoulder issue (he is expected to make his first appearance of the season for Exeter Chiefs against Saracens on Saturday), Ben Toolis had a knee injury (he is still two months away from fitness), emerging trio Alex Craig (two caps), Cameron Henderson and Glen Young (both uncapped) were also unavailable, while Scott Cummings only came back into contention for the final match of the series against Japan after undergoing surgery in his arm at the start of October.
Gray admits that the prospect of linking up again with his brother when the 2022 Six Nations kicks off in February is tempting but says he doesn’t want to look too far ahead.
“Obviously, a bit of time has passed since we last played together so we will see what happens,” said the older sibling. “It would be great, but the focus is just to continue playing well for Glasgow and then take it from there. I know everybody says that, but I think it’s certainly relevant.”
Gray added that he is feeling refreshed and energised after getting some time off and then a good block of training under his belt during the international window, although he concedes that Warriors’ return to United Rugby Championship action last Saturday did not go to plan, with the team surrendering a winning position against Benetton through three soft penalties during the last 90 seconds of the match.
“These things shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately sometimes they do,” he reflected. “We got into a good position to close out the game and then the penalty count was just far too high, which allowed Benetton to march up the pitch and get the points they needed without really doing a lot.”
It is not the first time in recent seasons that poor discipline has cost Warriors dearly, and head coach Danny Wilson will be hoping that his decision to bring referee Ben Blain in to work with the squad during training on Tuesday can help address the issue.
“We went 15-on-15, and he was pretty hot on things,” explained Gray. “He gave a bit of feedback as well.
“You train how you play. If you’re doing it in training, you’re going to do it at the weekend. So, we’re just trying to be squeaky clean.
“Sometimes scrum penalties are 50/50 and sometimes you go for a jackal and don’t get away with it. But it’s dumb penalties like high shots or coming through a line-out that we need to stop. It’s just stupid. It’s about how you eradicate them for the weekend.”
Next up is the Dragons at Scotstoun this coming Saturday night. “It will be a big game and a physical game, it always is with the Dragons,” concluded Ritchie. “Hopefully, we can put a few things right because everyone was pretty gutted about what happened against Benetton.
“But they are coming off a loss at home against Edinburgh so they will want to right that as well.”
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