JONNY may be the younger of the two, and his elder sibling a British and Irish Lion, but there is no doubt which is the more worried of the pair of giant Grays.
Both are relatively quiet characters but have had to learn to come out of their shells and use their 6ft 9in (Richie) and 6ft 6in (Jonny) frames to potent use on the rugby field, and now that the competition which used to be confined to their home has moved into the international rugby arena one senses that they may just become even more demonstrative in deed and word in the coming years.
Jonny, at 19, will be one of the youngest forwards ever to play for Scotland and possibly the youngest for over 60 years, and there is the possibility looming that he could emulate the late, great Gordon Brown and find himself being preferred to his elder brother. Peter Brown tells the story still with great shock of how he received the call from his younger sibling to inform him he was making his debut, and duly congratulated him before asking ‘who’s out? And being told ‘you!’.
That could be a while off just yet as Jonny Gray gets to grip with life in the faster, more intense and physical world of Test rugby, but making his return to the starting line-up for the first time since the Six Nations Richie admitted he can see the day.
“Yes, that’s something of which I’m all too aware,” he said, with a smile. “I’m immensely proud and Jonny has achieved a lot of things, but I do have to keep an eye on him to keep him off me now.
“Obviously, he is my brother but, at the end of the day, we’re both professional rugby players and in the same position, and so there are challenges there.
“But, over the years, I’ve been saying that my brother is certainly one to watch as he’s been coming through. I’ve watched a few of the Glasgow games this season and he’s been phenomenal. He’s played incredibly well and has been consistent, and he thoroughly deserves not only his place in the squad but the chance he’s getting at the weekend.
“I’m massively proud and honoured and I’m just really looking forward to seeing him getting on the pitch and showing what he can do.”
The boys clearly get on well and their paths to this point have not been wholly straightforward. In fact, they revealed that it was actually the younger that led the elder into the sport.
“He was the first person to take up rugby in the family,” said Richie, “and I think I maybe started about two years later.”
“I was seven when my friend’s neighbour took me down, to Cambuslang,” added Jonny.
Richie added: “That was a big influence in me taking it up, but I was playing a lot of football and trying to swing a golf club at that time, but Jonny was getting really into his rugby and I then had a crack at it. But the first time I really played was at Kelvinside Academy.”
The boys had attended local state primaries but as they continued to grow – Jonny’s twin sister Megan is nearly six foot tall as well – they became lads of great interest to rugby coaches across Glasgow.
Now 24, Richie came through quickly, captaining Scotland under-20s and making his debut for Scotland at the age of 20 off the bench against France in 2010. Jonny has followed, leading the under-20s for two years and now is poised to earn his first cap off the bench against the Springboks. They are big lads, but also have worked interminable hard on improving their rugby skills and knowledge of the game.
Scott Johnson insisted yesterday that he would not answer questions about “the Grays”, because he sees them as two different players, on the field and off. They are and that is perhaps what will bring the best out of both as the years progress.
Jonny has already learned the value of calling lineouts to the point that having worked hard on it with John Dalziel at Scotland under-20s and Al Kellock with Glasgow, he could come off the bench on Sunday for either the main caller Jim Hamilton or his brother Richie, who has never taken on that extra responsibility yet.
Jonny is also a stronger player at the age of 19 than his brother was, and it could be argued whether that comes from a stronger work ethic or the fact that his brother managed to achieve more in the game than he could through more varied skills. He has also grown through the opportunity to be mentored by All Black Reubene Thorne, when in New Zealand last year under the John Macphail Scholarship, which he describes as being “a massive influence” on his career, and has already come through well a contest with the Springbok he might face on Sunday, Bakkies Botha, when Glasgow faced Toulon in the Heineken Cup.
The pair are a great credit to the Cambuslang club and Kelvinside Academy and, of course, their parents, and they share a calm demeanour off the pitch but a reputation for something quite different on it.
They are delighted to be in the same squad of any shape or form for the first time, primed to become the 47th pair of brothers to play for Scotland – having survived a week of rooming together once again.
“Yes, we’re in a room together,” said Richie, laughing. “I’m not sure who made that decision. The first thing he said was that he’d drawn the short straw, but I think it was just random.
“But it’s been great. We won’t know till the weekend I suppose what kind of emotions will come over you being there together, but though he’s my brother he’s another member of the squad and has conducted himself very well and so you just leave him to it. There’s no need for me to hover about. I’ve done enough I think and it’s up to him now.”
Jonny added: “I have really enjoyed my time with the squad, but it was a massive surprise and an honour to be told I’d be involved this week. It’s a very special moment and great to have my brother here, which makes it that bit more special.
“He’s always there when I need advice and he’s been a massive influence on my career. Some people always said ‘that will be you and your brother one day’ but you never believe that it will be true.
“I still think I’ve got a lot of work to do to get anywhere near where my brother is. He’s world-class, and it has been a massive surprise at how quickly it has come, but I’ve got a lot of work still to do as I say to get to the level of other players in this squad.”
It is a genuinely humble approach that typifies both lads, but it may not be long before the battles over X-Box games that yielded “just cuts and bruises” according to Jonny, become something more challenging as the contest for Scotland second row berths move to a new level of intensity that could bring the best out of all who fancy their chances.
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