STANDING proud at a mighty six foot nine inches, Richie Gray is a giant of a man by anyone’s standard.
The only reason he doesn’t have major problems manoeuvring himself through small doors and under low-hanging branches is because the 25-year-old is so laid back that he seems able to effortlessly limbo his way past any obstacle which life puts in front of him.
Gray was paraded in front of the press yesterday as the Scotland rugby team launched their new strip for the upcoming Rugby World Cup. However, talk inevitably turned quickly away from fashion and towards the burning issue of how his preparation for the big tournament is going – and the player was at his unflappable best.
When discussing the competition for places in the second-row, he conceded with a wry smile that the presence of such uncompromising characters as Jim Hamilton, Grant Gilchrist and his brother Jonny Gray in the squad will ensure that things get pretty tense as the World Cup looms over the horizon.
“It’s not at the tasty stage yet. We’ve got a few more weeks until we get to that stage,” he acknowledged.
Asked about how he had coped with the training squad’s recent hiking and camping expedition in the French Pyrenees, the second-rower offered a shrug and a cheeky grin.
“The big boys just tend to lurk near the back and have a moan, then steal all the food at the barbeque,” he admitted.
When it was suggested that he must be used to taking part in these sorts of pre-tournament excursions into the great outdoors after playing club rugby with French Top 14 side Olympique Castres these last two seasons, the big lock simply chuckled and shook his head.
“Sure, we went to the French mountains – but we went to a golf course. It was slightly different playing 18 holes as opposed to climbing up a mountain,” he revealed. This final disclosure perhaps helps explain why the team which won the French title in 2012-13, and then finished runners-up in 2013-14, were so clearly undercooked at the start of the 2014-15 campaign – managing only seven wins from their first 20 games in the league up to early April.
That left them stranded at the foot of the Top 14 table and facing up to the possibility of relegation – which would almost certainly have meant Gray being moved on despite still having a year left to run on his contract.
The big boys tend to lurk near the back and then steal all the food at the barbequeRichie Gray
The situation was even more hopeless for the player because he had been out of action since mid-February after damaging tendons in his upper-arm whilst playing for Scotland against Wales in the Six Nations, and he wasn’t due back in action until the final match of the season at the end of May.
Fortunately, both club and body were back on track before too long, and with his Castres future secured, Gray can now focus fully on the big prize of being part of a successful World Cup campaign for Scotland this autumn.
“It is great that Castres were able to turn it around towards the end of the season with an unbelievable run of results which meant we could enjoy that last game with no real pressure after a pretty brutal season,” he said.
“And I made it back in 12 weeks which meant I could play in that final match of the campaign, so that gave me a bit of confidence that everything is working fine after the operation, and I’m feeling good.
“When I came back I wasn’t too far off where I wanted to be, and it’s just nice to now have three weeks hard training under my belt because hopefully I’ll be raring to go for the warm-up games.
“I’m pretty tired, as I’m sure a lot of the guys are, because it’s been a pretty tough two weeks up in the mountains, but we’re all the better for the experience.”