RICHIE Gray missed out on the Rugby World Cup after twice turning down invitations from Gregor Townsend to join the Scotland squad. But now the lock has insisted that he will make himself available again to the national team – while insisting that his priority has to be winning a place in the Glasgow squad.
The 30-year-old lock, who is now back with the Warriors after an eight-year absence, first declined Townsend’s request to join the Scotland World Cup training squad for a pre-World Cup training camp last spring, and then said no again to an invitation to be part of the group when Sam Skinner picked up an injury a few weeks before the tournament. Gray’s wife Ellie gave birth to a son in May – after the first request and before the second – and it was clear that family reasons were uppermost in the player’s decision. The coach said then that the forward would still be considered on his merits for future internationals, and Gray himself now appears to share that attitude – if he is deemed good enough to add to his 55 caps.
“Yes, I’m available,” Gray said yesterday (Friday). “I suppose those conversations will happen over the next few months, but first and foremost is to get back playing and trying to get a slot in this Glasgow squad. I don’t think I can get ahead of myself.”
Gray, whose last appearance for Scotland to date was when he came off the bench against Italy in 2018, missed out on this year’s Six Nations Championship because of injury. Between the head knock that sidelined him during his last few months as a Toulouse player and the Covid-19 pandemic that has prevented any rugby since March, he has not played since December. It is understandable, then, that he does not want to look too far ahead – especially because, as he explained, competition for a place in the second row is fierce.
“Who knows?,” Gray admitted when asked if he could see himself in a Scotland jersey again. “The desire is always there and that’s the same for every player, to represent your country. But first and foremost, the priority is Glasgow. Every player will tell you that you need to play well for your club before looking at internationals.
“You also have to take into account that the [Scotland] second row is pretty strong at the moment. There is a lot of strength in depth and the competition for places is tough. So let’s see what happens.”
One encouraging sign is that Gray and Townsend have continued to have the occasional conversation. Unsurprisingly given the player’s injury, nothing too in-depth has been discussed, but the fact that there has been a continuing dialogue suggests a desire on both parts to work together again at some point.
“Yeah, it’s just been small stuff, no great detail, just ‘How are you getting on?’,” Gray added. “A bit of chat around the Six Nations, but I took a head knock so I wasn’t available. Nothing in great depth, but at the World Cup, Gregor was very understanding; left the door open.”
Even if international rugby takes place at some point later this year, the initial target for Gray will be Glasgow’s double-header against Edinburgh at the end of August, with both matches taking place at BT Murrayfield. He is as yet unsure how match-ready he may be by then, but after a five-month break all of his team-mates and indeed opponents will be in the same position.
“Yes, I certainly hope so,” he said when asked if he would be fit to play in the two games, which will conclude an abbreviated PRO14 regular season. “Condition-wise, I’m not too sure. Let’s wait and see the Glasgow Warriors fitness tests. I’ve kept myself ticking over in lockdown as best I could. I joined up with the group at the start of July and I’m in reasonable condition, but there’s a lot further to go given the last few months.”
When Gray left Glasgow back in 2012, the club were on the way up, making a steady improvement season after season which culminated in their winning the PRO12 title in 2015. There has been a considerable turnover of personnel since then both in the playing staff and behind the scenes, with Dave Rennie succeeding Townsend as head coach and now Danny Wilson taking over from Rennie, but the forward is convinced that the essential elements remain in place for the club to keep doing well.
“I still think they’re on the way up. Obviously, there is a transition period as there is a new coach coming in, some players have left and some new players have come in. However, the core group and the youth coming through are strong and there is obviously a legacy to do well.
“Glasgow have always hit the play-offs and they have been competing in Europe as well. To continue that is very important to the club.
“From a Glasgow point of view, I would love to do really well with the club. I want to get back playing regular rugby. Competition for places is always good from the team point of view and from a personal point of view. It will be difficult to get a place in that team, but that’s a good thing for me. It means that every day I’ve got to be working hard and bringing something to training. I’m certainly hoping that that will spur me on as well.
“The last few seasons have been quite frustrating from an injury point of view, so just getting back some consistency and getting a run of games and doing well at the club . . . . . What happens after that happens after that.”