With such a limited gene pool to pick from it is no surprise that so many siblings have done good service for Scottish rugby through the ages.
From John and David Bedell-Sivright in the early 1900s to more recent brothers in arms such as the Calder twins (although Jim had retired before Finlay was capped), the Hastings, all three Milne brothers, the Leslies, two Evans, Peter and Gordon Brown. Now the two Grays, Richie and Jonny, will start against Argentina tomorrow.
“There is a proud tradition of brothers playing in the Scotland team and it is great that we can keep that going,” said Richie, 25.
“It is not too much about us. It is about the team and the most important thing is getting the win at the weekend.”
The brothers are five years apart so perhaps it isn’t surprising that they have never before set foot on the same rugby field, with the exception of their parents’ back garden, although the pair did pass each other when the 20-year-old Jonny replaced Richie in the game against South Africa last November.
Inevitably, the two were put in front of the press together and it was no surprise that they both reached for the same adjectives to describe their emotions at being told they would be playing Test match rugby together for the first time.
“It was a very special moment for both us. Really surreal,” was how Jonny explained the announcement and, while he is very much his own man, Richie couldn’t help but borrow the same language.
“It got announced in front of the group on a projector screen,” said the older man. “Both names came up together pictured side by side. It was pretty surreal. A pretty special moment.”
The pair of brothers are twin colossi, Richie standing 6ft 9in and Jonny a little shorter but broader and both of them bringing a much-needed athleticism to the Scotland boiler room.
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With good ball skills and big engines they look ideally suited to play head coach Vern Cotter’s high-tempo style of rugby.
There is much the pair have in common but Jonny will be calling the shots at the sidelines, at both defensive and offensive lineouts, and the younger brother rules the roost elsewhere as well, according to Richie.
“Jonny is the boss,” says his elder sibling with just the hint of a smile on his lips. “He tells me where to go. I just shut up and listen. In saying that, corny as it sounds, we like to bounce ideas off each other. If he thinks he can do things better he will tell me. Likewise if I think I can do it better I will tell him. That’s the way it works.”
“I am lucky I have had great mentors like Al [Kellock] who has been incredible for me,” says Jonny when asked about calling the lineouts codes. “Every week he sits through the lineouts with me. Even when he is calling, he will sit through it and say this is how he would do it and what he would look at.
“To have someone like him at the club [Glasgow] and with all his experience is fantastic and I am very thankful for that. Rich started calling them this year as well and Jim [Hamilton] too, another guy with great experience. To be able to tap into the experience of these guys is incredible.
“I have seen Rich growing up working really hard to get where he is on and off the pitch. His work ethic, the extras he has to do at home, his diet, his extra fitness, his extra weights…it was something I knew I had to do. Watching him was useful.”
Their coach talked about the “positive vibe” surrounding this young squad, who are enjoying a re-boot of sorts after several seasons when notable victories have been few and far between.
Richie Gray has been in and around the national squad since 2010, so does he concur with his coach about the current feel-good factor in the squad?
“I certainly think so,” comes the response. “When you go through a couple of the plays everything feels pretty sharp. It feels…fluid. We are creating gaps and space. It is credit to these young guys coming through and the guys in the squad,” and the big man laughs because one of those young guys he mentions is sitting next to him.
“They have performed exceptionally well and trained exceptionally well. I’m really looking forward to seeing how we go at the weekend. In saying that, we are going up against a great team that is coming off the back of a great win in the Rugby Championship so it will be a tough match.”
The brothers may have been all smiles yesterday but it won’t have passed their notice that Grant Gilchrist was Cotter’s original choice for captain. If the coach reverts to the Edinburgh lock to lead Scotland throughout next year’s Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup, the two brothers will effectively be fighting each other for one starting shirt. Let’s hope that fraternal feelings survive that crossroads. Who was the better man when they played in the backyard all those years ago?
“When you are 12 years old and your brother is seven it was a bit easier but as he got a big bigger it started to get a bit harder,” says Richie. “It was a tough one to call.”
It still is.
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