MOST props in modern rugby are far removed from the fat lads who used to trundle around the pitch and some of the current crop are also shedding other stereotypes.
No longer also sullen, straight-talking operators, perhaps. At least not Ryan Grant. Having trimmed his beard ahead of a match-up with a Welsh front row that includes the original “Hair Bear” prop in Adam Jones, Grant may be naturally quiet, but is becoming a more buoyant, optimistic soul than some of his predecessors in the Scotland No 1 jersey.
After leaving the Army to struggle through interminable maneouvres to find a place to play professional rugby in Scotland, the Fifer i has found his feet at Glasgow and is now being quoted as one of Scotland’s growing number of British and Irish Lions possibles.
He is actually a straight-talker, with a clever and mature head on his shoulders but, having waited a long time for his chance, he is not about to talk down recent achievements.
Asked what he felt about the change from last season, when he pushed through into the Scotland team for a successful first three caps in Australasia, a wide smile broke out. “It’s great for us to have done 200 per cent better than we did the year before,” he said. “To win games lifts morale and creates confidence. And it’s good to have people excited about Scottish rugby again. We know what it means [to the nation]. We’ve been at home for the last week or so and people have been coming out of the woodwork, people you used to go to school with, wishing you all the best. It’s good, a really nice feeling to know that people are responding.
“But, of course, it’s easily lost with a couple of defeats, so we need to keep on the right path. I think you could tell how desperate the fans were for a couple of wins and, to be honest, it’s the same for us. There is a huge amount of pressure on us. That was lifted a little bit with the Italy game, a little bit more with the Ireland game. Some good performances have been ready to come out of this team for a while now.
“But the challenge is to not get carried away. We didn’t play well against Ireland. The boys showed a lot of spirit and a lot of courage, sure, but, when you break the game down, it wasn’t a good performance.
“We can’t just rely on a bit of heart and balls to get the win. We need to come up with something a bit better.”
There is the reality and, after coping with the closure of the Borders and two years virtually as a “waterboy” at Edinburgh under Andy Robinson, Grant has had enough dark days to last a lifetime. After actively seeking a new career away from sport when at Edinburgh, including deep-sea diving, the move to Glasgow and oxygen of games ignited a fresh desire to put in hours upon hours of pushing steel in the gym, explosive sprint work, interminable scrummaging practice and passing drills. Grant has had his knocks but taken them in his stride and come back, and now combines an appreciation of his life as a pro sportsman with a searing ambition for more days of celebration.
The 27-year-old agrees that the Welsh scrum, after demolishing Italy up front, could be the hardest yet but, having helped give Scotland a solid foundation, he has no intention of letting it slip nine Tests in. He said: “I’ve been there, been at the bottom of the ladder and I know what that’s like, and I think I know how to get out. Now, I’m here, I’ve got a job to do and that’s what I’m doing – just like I did back then [when on the sidelines at Edinburgh]. The only difference is there’s a bit more responsibility and more pressure now. I’ll take that. This is not a hard game to play. You go out there, give your best and, when you come in, you know yourself whether you’ve played well or not. I aim to do that week in, week out.”
And then the wide smile returns. Confident?
“Of course we’re confident. We’ve got a good team, we’re on our home ground and it’s a sell-out. The fans were brilliant against Ireland. It’s not often, when you’re in the game and focused on your job, that you hear the crowd, but they were amazing against Ireland. They gave us the strength to grind out the win in the last 20 minutes.
“It’s a good feeling when you’re out there, you know you’re on top and the crowd get behind you at the scrum.
It gave us that extra buzz, the extra push needed.
“Given that we’ve won two and we’re at home, sure, we can win this game.”