The cycle of modern rugby tours is a demanding one. Sundays are for injury assessment and recovery while Mondays will probably include a video session of some sort and maybe some light gym work.
Tuesdays are tough. Tuesdays are sufficiently far from the last and from the next match to be properly hard work. Tuesdays are when the forwards knock lumps out of other on the training paddock and Tuesdays are when Scotland’s twin towers Richie Gray and Grant Gilchrist look so whacked that they will probably leave the midday press conference in Markham’s Hilton Hotel and head straight to bed.
“It’s getting to the stage of the season where the boys are perhaps not feeling their freshest,” says Gray. “But it’s a new coach and a new start for everyone and we have to ensure we all give it one last push.
“I am determined to enjoy it while I am here because I might only have one game left. That said, I am looking forward to lying on a beach for a couple of weeks. It will be good just to shut down completely because it has been pretty full on for a year.
“I had the Lions tour last summer, the move to Castres and everything that has gone in-between with Scotland. I haven’t really had a chance to reflect on it all but I will after the Canada game, that’s for sure.”
Gray’s season lasted longer than most, with a Top 14 appearance for Castres in Paris just two weekend’s back. He talks with awe about having 12,000 fans make the trip to the French capital and, if that number doesn’t impress, then it’s worth remembering that Castres boasts a population of just 43,000 souls. Imagine Kilmarnock contesting the RaboDirect Pro 12 final and you have something similar. The big fella hasn’t had much time to get to grips with a new coach or even to understand properly what Vern Cotter is expecting from his tight forwards but, so far, Gray appears comfortable to be working under new management.
“Last week was Vern’s first time with all the guys,” said the Lions’ Test lock. “He had a small and limited input but this week has definitely been more hands-on, especially with the forwards. He wants us to play in a certain way and he’s going through the drills in fine detail.
“He wants us constantly on the move, even in training. It’s been tough but I am really enjoying it so far. He’s made a big impression in his first few weeks, that’s for sure.”
With Jim Hamilton already back in the UK after damaging his ankle during the USA game, Gray is likely to have a new partner in the shape of Edinburgh’s Gilchrist, who should add to his five caps. It is a formidable duo but they will need to be at their best since they are up against Canada’s lock of ages, Jamie Cudmore, a veteran second row forward of 35 years who played at Clermont under Cotter.
“I enjoy playing with Grant, says Gray on Grant. “He’s a very good player and he’s an out and out line-out caller. He’s a very mobile lock who gets about the pitch very well so I’m looking forward to getting the chance to play with him again.”
Happily that sentiment is reciprocated. Gilchrist is perhaps a little unlucky not to have more caps under his belt but he does play in the one position that Scotland have such strength in depth that this duo have never before paired up at Test level.
“He is a great athlete,” says Grant on Gray. “He is a good all-round rugby player, he carries the ball well. He is a good line out option. There is a good balance there and we can play well together. We played a couple of games together at under-20s.
“There are natural strengths he does well and there are natural strengths in my game. Certainly maybe not as athletic as Richie but I have introduced that to my game. With Edinburgh, I have been involved a lot in the loose. I call the line-out, too, which is something Richie is not experienced in doing.”
Unlike his giant partner, Grant is doing the entire summer tour, carrying on to Argentina and South Africa but he had the luxury of ten days of down time between the end of Edinburgh’s season and the start of preparing for this tour.
“It has been quite a long season,” say Grant, “but not making the play-offs allowed us to get away from it and come back fresher.”
“Fresh” wasn’t the first word you’d associate with Scotland’s twin locks on Tuesday but, then again, Tuesday is not a “fresh” day in the weekly cycle of Test match touring.