RICHIE Gray believes he is living proof that every cloud has a silver lining after admitting he feels mentally and physically fresh for the British Lions.
While most of his fellow Lions are nursing the usual host of niggles, aches and complaint, Gray is hoping his injury lay-off could yet prove a blessing in disguise.
The towering Scotland second-row Gray feared his Lions dream could be over when he was ruled out for eight weeks after tearing his hamstring during the Six Nations Championship.
But disappointment of missing the climax of the tournament has given way to the appreciation of a rare mid-season break has left him feeling in prime condition for the forthcoming challenge Down Under on this summer’s tour to Australia.
The last time the Lions went Down Under in 2001, England lock Danny Grewcock was laid low for a similar period at the same stage of the season but went on to play his way into the Test team.
Gray said: “I’m hoping the injury could be a blessing in disguise. I certainly feel a hell of a lot fresher than normal at this stage of the season.
“When I was being carried off [against Wales at Murrayfield] everything was running through my mind. How bad is it? How long will I be out? Once I had the scan results I knew I had half a chance of making the Lions so all I have focused on is getting it right. Now the hamstring feels fine and I’m 100 per cent ready to go.
“The last eight weeks following my injury has given me a bit of time to shake off a few niggles, some bumps and bruises, which is pretty rare and hopefully will stand me in good stead.
“It also gave me time to get away from the day-to-day business of rugby, play a bit of golf, and now I feel mentally fresh and ready to crack on. The grounds will be harder and we should have some nice weather, hopefully that will suit me.”
Gray has long been pencilled in as a potential Lion, especially after helping Scotland to an historic victory over the Wallabies in New South Wales last summer.
However, injury and the dramatic loss of form of club side Sale Sharks left the 23-year-old’s place on the tour hanging in the balance.
He re-called: “It’s not been a vintage season by any means and I’m the first to admit that. The only thing I could do was get my hamstring right to put my name in the hat and, thankfully, I was able to do that.
“I was at home in Glasgow with my father [Douglas] but I could barely watch the television when they were reading out the squad because it was so nerve-racking. It was a long, long wait for them to read out my name but when they did we just went nuts. I’ve never seen my dad show so much emotion.”
Gray reported to the Lions temporary head-quarters at Syon House in west London yesterday with the rest of the squad for a ‘logistics’ briefing that included the presentation of kit and formal wear.
It may have only been a polo shirt and tracksuit bottoms and there is plenty more work to be done to earn the jersey, but the sight of the famous Lions badge proved the moment the reality of his achievement struck home.
He added: “I’ve spoken to a few former Lions in Chris Cusiter and Jason White about what it’s all about. The thing that comes across from speaking to them is how much of an honour it is. They told me to make sure I enjoy it as much as possible but have that focus on the task at hand. To start any game for the Lions would be an honour.” Along with Gray in London were Glasgow pair Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg, both of whom will now take a full part in Lions preparations following the Warriors Pro12 play-off defeat to Leinster..
Gray said: “Sean has certainly made an impression. He takes his rugby very seriously but when you talk to him off the pitch he’s a chilled-out guy.
“Everyone in Scotland knew Stuart’s potential but he has really come on leaps this season. He’s got bags of pace and he’s in great form at the moment. It’s just disappointing there aren’t more Scots in the squad.
“Naturally, you are be disappointed for your countrymen but we just have to get on with it. I’m looking forward to meeting these guys and getting out there.”