If Scotland lock Jonny Gray isn’t quite at home during press conferences at the moment, the chances are he will have plenty of time to hone his skills.
The Glasgow Warriors player was first capped at the age of 19 in November 2013 and he appeared in one newspaper’s Team of the Week after the opening round of this Six Nations.
Still only 20, Gray already has nine caps to his credit and, if he steers clear of serious injury, he will rip up the record books in terms of international appearances.
He missed last year’s Six Nations Cardiff catastrophe when a red mist descended on Stuart Hogg and the full-back crunched Dan Biggar with a tackle so high and dangerous that it left his team-mates high and dry, playing short-handed for almost an hour. Helped by then coach Scott Johnson’s decision to keep just six players in the backline, the result was a seven-try shellacking that Scottish fans hope will be avenged on Sunday.
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“Everyone was disappointed with the result from last year,” says Gray, with understatement. “But we’re trying not to think about it too much, just look at the game last Friday [Wales lost 21-16 to England] and learn the lessons, then move forward.
“When you look at Wales, their games in the autumn and then against England last week, you can see how direct they are. They’re very physical, they’re tough around the breakdown and they’ve got dangerous runners throughout the team. So we know how hard the game is going to be.”
After Scotland went down 15-8 in France on Saturday, Gray repeats that mantra of how tough Sunday’s assignment will be, time and again. And, with Wales on a record run of seven consecutive wins against Scotland, there seems little chance of complacency creeping into the squad. Nevertheless, Gray hammers home the Himalayan scale of the mountain facing them. But, are Wales perhaps a tad predictable?
Gray replies: “No, Wales are a top-class side. They’ve got top-class players. So we know how tough this is going to be.”
The Welsh lineout might be a way into the match for Scotland? “We’ve looked at the lineout and they have got a top-class lineout.”
But they are losing something like four throws per match on average thanks to Richard Hibbard’s wayward arrows? “No, we still respect them, they’ve got a top lineout. We’re going to do the best we can and do a lot of analysis but they’ve got a good lineout.”
Do Scotland need to beat a good team that is ranked above them to lay down a marker in this competition and give the fans something to shout about? “The team spirit here is very strong. We go into every game thinking we can win but we know how tough it’s going to be.”
Are Wales going to be all the more dangerous after that loss to England? “Wales are always going to be a dangerous team. When you look at the names they’ve got, they’re a very strong side.”
However, if Wales are strong the current Scotland squad is exciting. The selectors sat down yesterday to finalise the 23-man squad to face the Welsh, with prop Geoff Cross the only obvious change from Paris, in the enforced absence of Euan Murray, who won’t play on Sunday for religous reasons.
If Sean Maitland has recovered from his shoulder injury, the winger may replace Tim Visser, who looked hesitant in Paris.
Both centres suffered knocks but Scotland head coach Vern Cotter will hope to be able to call upon Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett.
The latter especially posed the French questions with the ball in hand. If not, Matt Scott could deputise if his own shoulder issue is resolved.
The only other question mark hovered over Rob Harley but, if the blindside flanker turns out to be unavailable, there is a ready-made replacement in Alasdair Strokosch.
Jonny and Richie Gray are shoo-ins to power the Scottish engine room and, on the subject of his older brother, Jonny finally finds a theme that he can warm to.
“It’s still pretty surreal,” he said of packing down beside Richie. “Just to be involved in the set-up is special but to have him here as well, it’s incredible. It’s something I never thought would happen. Just growing up watching him, I’ve been very lucky to have Rich, to see first-hand how hard he had to work to get where he is. His diet, his extras, his training. For me to see that, there were no excuses for me.
“And he’s the same here, still out doing his extras, still out there working hard. So that’s a great example and to have someone like that around is amazing.”