IT SEEMS only months ago that we were hailing a new Scotland talent in the shape of Richie Gray, but now his younger brother, Jonny, is poised for his first steps into the Test arena.
Castres-based Richie is still just 24, and was also named in the Scotland training squad, and he has often said his brother is the better player. A common comparison among coaches is that where the elder sibling was a slow burn into the game during his teens, the younger Gray watched, followed and developed a voracious appetite for learning every part of the game from the day he stepped into age-grade squads.
Jonny agrees and, on being announced as one of five uncapped players in the Scotland autumn training squad, paid tribute to his brother for inspiring him to be a professional. He also recalled typical brotherly fights, which, featuring two lads heading towards their current 6ft 9in and 6ft 6in, must have left their mother regularly referring to the household insurance policy.
“It was a massive honour [to be selected],” said Jonny, “and very unexpected, so I’m just grateful to be a part of it, and be involved.
“I’ve never felt any pressure from my brother. It’s always been good to have him there. We used to fight a lot all the time and on the X-Box and games he used to wind me up. But when I was growing up and coming through the academy he used to take me out and I would see from him the time and extras you have to put in to get to this level.
“It would be massive [to be on the field together]. It’s something people have said to me but I’ve laughed it off and said that it won’t happen but, hopefully, one day now it might.”
It is quite a thought, two Grays with a rare blend of size, aggression and ball skills in the second row, and, while Scotland now boast very strong lock competition, it is not unrealistic to envisage the younger brother being given a run off the bench at some stage next month.
Scotland’s interim head coach, Scott Johnson, admitted he has been impressed by the youngster’s progress since signing his first full-time pro deal earlier this year.
“I don’t like chimneys and kids getting smoke blown, but he’s been superb,” he said. “Sometimes there are comments made and we get on a bandwagon by saying certain things, and when you get into the depths of it they’re not as good as people think. That’s usually the rule. He’s probably the reverse.
“His numbers and his quality of work have shown up to be much better off the pitch [in analysis] than it probably has live and, for a 20-year-old kid playing in the position he is, that says a bit about him.
“They [Gray brothers] are different athletes, different players and different people so I try not to compare them. Jonny just loves playing rugby, is a full-on rugby player and wants to know the intricacies of the game, and in a position that demands that, he eats it up, and that’s a fantastic attitude. Now, that’s a good place to start, and add the skill and that’s a good place to finish.
“He has work to do, of course, and he has to earn his spots, but I want everyone to understand that there is someone looking over their shoulder and no-one is guaranteed to be there. Anyone in this squad I will seriously look at [to play in autumn Tests].”
So, while Mark Bennett, the Glasgow centre who spent a year in the Clermont Auvergne academy – watched closely, incidentally, by Scotland’s new coach-in-waiting Vern Cotter – may also be selected with a view to turning up the heat on incumbents, and pushing into contention through the next 18 months, Johnson is eager to find out over the course of this season’s eight Test matches, and four on an
intriguing summer tour, how close these youngsters are to genuine options for Scotland’s World Cup campaign in 2015.
“I want to strengthen our depth but, at the same time, we are trying to consolidate a core group,” said Johnson. “I’ve got 24 Test matches working back from the World Cup and this is the start of a pretty arduous year.
“Next year we’ve got a Rabo final and we leave on the Sunday [after it] to go to Houston, up to Canada, down to Tucuman [Argentina] and then over to South Africa, and we have sevens at the Commonwealth Games, and we’re all competing for a large number of those players.
“I want competition but I’d like to be able to say that this time next year we’re looking down on who we’re going to argue over for a World Cup squad, so there will be constants in this team but we’re also going to trial a couple of different combinations to see how they will work.”
Scotland squad for training camp in Glasgow (27-30 October) in preparation for viagogo Autumn Tests
Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors) Age 20 Uncapped
Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) Age 31 Caps 62
Nick De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 29 Caps 38
Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) Age 23 Caps 3
Max Evans (Castres) Age 30 Caps 35
Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby) Age 21 Caps 3
Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors) Age 25 Caps 21
Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) Age 32 Caps 79
Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 28 Caps 21
Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors) Age 25 Caps 5
Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) Age 24 Caps 9
Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 23 Caps 15
Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) Age 25 Caps 2
Duncan Taylor (Saracens) Age 24 Caps 3
Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 24 Caps 1
Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 26 Caps 12
Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) Age 22 Caps 5
John Barclay (Scarlets) Age 27 Caps 41
John Beattie (Montpellier) Age 27 Caps 24
Kelly Brown (Saracens) Age 31 Caps 58
Blair Cowan (London Irish) Age 27 Uncapped
Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 30 Caps 22
David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 23 Caps 14
Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 30 Caps 27
Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 29 Caps 68
Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors) Age 24 Uncapped
Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 23 Caps 3
Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors) Age 28 Caps 10
Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) Age 19 Uncapped
Richie Gray (Castres) Age 24 Caps 31
Jim Hamilton (Montpellier) Age 30 Caps 48
Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors) Age 23 Caps 5
Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors) Age 32 Caps 55
Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons) Age 32 Caps 38
Kieran Low (London Irish) Age 22 Uncapped
Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors) Age 28 Caps 21
Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors) Age 26 Cap 1
Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors) Age 33 Caps 56
Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan) Age 30 Caps 35
Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) Age 26 Caps 2
Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors) Age 27 Caps 2
Invited to train with squad: Stuart McInally and Ross Rennie (both Edinburgh).
Injured: Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne, Peter Murchie and Ryan Wilson (all Glasgow Warriors) and Steve Lawrie (Edinburgh Rugby).
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE