LIFE is not always a walk in the park when you are the parents of Richie and Jonny Gray.
Sure, there is the soaring pride that comes from watching your boys charge out onto the hallowed Murrayfield turf wearing a navy blue jersey with a thistle emblazoned on the left breast.
And there is, of course, a deep-rooted satisfaction in the knowledge that both your offspring have started their adult life being handsomely remunerated for doing a job they love. But there are tough decisions to make as well. Take this weekend as an example.
Should Mr and Mrs Gray head down to Paris where the older son, Richie, is expected to be in action for Castres in the French Top 14 grand final against Toulon? Or, should they nip across to Dublin to see younger brother, Jonny, playing for Glasgow Warriors against Leinster in the Rabo Pro12 season decider?
Unfortunately it will be impossible to do both because the Castres game kicks off at 5:30pm (BST), which is just 45 minutes before the Warriors begin their tilt at glory. “I don’t know, maybe my mum will go one way and my dad the other,” said Jonny, at the conclusion of an open training session at the Warriors’ Scotstoun base yesterday afternoon.
Both matches promise to be thrillingly tense contests. Castres finished the regular season sixth in the French Top 14, then demonstrated their big-match temperament when they brought to an end Clermont Auvergne’s remarkable 77-match winning streak at home in the play-off quarter-finals. They then went to Montpellier and snatched another impressive victory to book a place in this Saturday’s showdown against newly-crowned European champions Toulon.
While Jonny Wilkinson and his team will inevitably start that match as favourites, Castres will take confidence from the knowledge that they were victorious when the same two sides met in last year’s showpiece event.
The Warriors, meanwhile, are venturing into uncharted territory having never before made it past the semi-finals of the play-offs. They are playing away from home in a city in which they have only been successful once in 17 visits during the professional era, but recent contests at the Royal Dublin Society have been agonisingly tight affairs which could easily have gone the other way, and the Warriors are riding high on the back of a nine-match winning streak.
They believe that they are more than capable of causing an upset so long as they approach the game in the right frame of mind.
“It is building up slowly. Everyone knows we need to get our preparations right for going out there. It is going to be such a tough game against a world-class side. Everyone is pretty calm at the moment, and we need to keep that building up until the game,” said the younger Gray.
Older, taller and with a distinctive shock of blond hair, Richie is the more instantly recognisable of the pair. He has 37 caps for Scotland, came off the bench during the final Lions Test in Australia last summer, has played club rugby in Scotland, England and France – and is still three months short of his 25th birthday. Jonny is five years younger, and is a naturally shy character off the park. He was excused from media duties at the start of this season because he found the whole thing rather overbearing. But any suggestion that he is some sort of lesser imitation of his big brother would be well wide of the mark.
His work-rate at training and on the field of play has been praised to the heavens by both Warriors coach Gregor Townsend and SRU director of rugby Scott Johnson during this breakthrough season. He is regarded as competent and confident enough to run the line-out for club and country (something his brother does not do), and his all-round excellence was recognised earlier this month when he was named the RaboDirect Pro12’s young player of the year.
Furthermore, he was six months younger than Richie was when he made his international debut against South Africa last November (when he came on as a replacement for his brother after 62 minutes). He now has three caps to his name and it is surely only a matter of time before the Gray boys link arms on the international field – although it won’t happen this summer because they are being sent on different sections of Scotland’s elongated summer tour of the USA, Canada, Argentina and South Africa.
Their hectic rugby schedules mean that they don’t see too much of each other these days, but there is a close bond there and Jonny is full of praise when asked about his brother’s influence on his development.
“I’m very proud of him. Throughout my career – throughout my life – he has always been there for me. And since he’s made it in rugby I’ve been able to look at him and the work he has put in to get to where he is. To be living next to a guy who is doing that – his diet, nutrition, fitness – and getting that first-hand experience of being a professional [has really helped me],” he said.
“We speak to each other now and again to see how we’re getting on. We just keep in touch as much as we can,” he added. “It’s great for Richie. Castres have done really well. They were sixth in the league and they managed to beat Clermont away, which is a massive achievement. It could be a great weekend.”