Six Nations: Gray ready to play with big boys

Jonny Gray in action for Scotland U20s. Picture: SNS
Jonny Gray in action for Scotland U20s. Picture: SNS
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IT WAS Irish flanker Sean O’Brien who was bemoaning Irish genetics the other day, arguing that they would never field significantly more muscle than the opposition simply because of the gene pool.

The Irish weren’t the biggest folk in town, he explained, and were unable to whistle up the sort of giants that are found in France and England.

The Scots should be in much the same place as their Celtic cousins but, instead, they are celebrating a local gene pool that has produced the twin behemoths Richie and Jonny Gray. While the older brother is a towering giant, the younger Gray is a far more solidly-built character, shorter but just about wide enough to merit his own time zone.

While lock Richie sat out yesterday’s last round of the championship with a torn hamstring his brother, who plays in the same position, is fit and well and captaining the Scotland Under-20 team against France this afternoon in Brive.

After two rounds of matches, the youngsters have emulated the senior side with two well-taken wins, against Italy and Ireland, while coming second to England and Wales.

The first match was something of a revelation since the age group Scots normally receive a kick in the pants from England but, in appalling conditions that favoured the hosts, the young Scots stuck to their guns to finish on the wrong end of a 15-6 final score. Would the younger Gray brother have accepted two wins at the start of the tournament?

“No, no,” Jonny sounds vaguely horrified at the thought. “We always want to win every match. We are always looking to improve and our coach John Dalziel along with Massimo [Cuttitta] have done lots of good work with us.

“We know that France have dangerous runners all over the park and they will field a big forward pack. It’s going to be a massive challenge,” added Gray the younger.

As a Scottish Rugby Elite Development player attached to Glasgow Warriors, he is one of the few players in the junior squad with professional experience, having come off the bench briefly in the inter-city derby and enjoyed 30 invaluable minutes against the Dragons. Glasgow have just strung together a record-breaking five consecutive bonus-point wins and Gray, who turned 19 last week, is quick to credit the club.

“Getting a taste of professional rugby at Glasgow has been priceless,” said Gray, who weighs in at around 18∫ stone.

“There is such a good team spirit at the place and big Al Kellock has been mentor to me and all the pros offer me good advice. I have learned so much this season.

“There is a great work ethic at the club with everyone staying behind at the end to put in the extras [training] and that is the sort of positive atmosphere we’ve tried to recreate at the Scotland U20s squad.”

It’s little surprise that the younsgters should ape Glasgow since Sean Lineen, who only stepped down as the Warriors’ head coach at the end of last season, is now in charge of the U20s.

Lineen’s squad go in search of their third win of the tournament and the last time the U20s managed that they boasted another Gray in the second row, elder brother Richie. Jonny remembers cheering on his brother at Perth’s McDiarmid Park, without ever thinking of emulating his success.

“No, I never thought I’d follow him through the ranks,” says Gray junior. “I just played rugby for fun. I would love to be a professional player but I have so much to learn and a long way to go.”

Never mind all the brouhaha surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey, Scotland can consider themselves lucky to call upon two shapes of Gray.