THE new Scotland A captain, Jonny Gray, has admitted that he will try to wring every last drop of information out of a master of the art ahead of the match against England Saxons at Scotstoun a week on Friday.
Gray, who is still only 19, was perhaps not the most obvious choice to lead a side looking for a third-successive win over the English. His Glasgow Warriors team-mate Ryan Wilson was the captain last year when the Scots claimed their first-ever away victory in the fixture.
The teenage brother of Richie Gray has been preferred over some much more experienced candidates, most notably 31-year-old Ally Hogg, who has 48 Scotland caps and is vice- captain of Newcastle Falcons.
“I’m a wee bit surprised,” admitted Gray, “but I’m very grateful and looking forward to the opportunity.
“The coaches asked me to be captain and I’m very privileged and very honoured.”
Like the Edinburgh stand-off Greig Tonks and three other players, Gray probably views his inclusion in the A squad with mixed feelings, having originally been chosen in Scott Johnson’s training squad for the RBS Six Nations. Scotland open their campaign in Ireland less than 48 hours after the Scotstoun match.
Nevertheless, Johnson has indicated that the Scotland A players could come into contention for the next match, against England at Murrayfield.
Gray – who won his first two caps in the autumn Tests – said: “The game at Scotstoun is a chance for me and the other players to showcase ourselves. It’s a massive opportunity to make a point to Scott Johnson.”
The master of the captaincy art who Gray looks up to, if not quite literally, is of course Al Kellock, the inspirational Glasgow leader who has held the club together on and off the pitch through tough times.
“He’s taught me a lot of things,” agreed Gray who, as captain of the Scotland under-20 side in last year’s Six Nations and Junior World Championship, is not a novice in the role. “Leadership-wise I’ve had a few chats with him.
“Look at what he’s done as a captain – he just inspires people. I’ve learned a few things from the way he goes about his business and speaks to groups of players. I know I can get more advice from him.
“Captaining the under-20s last year was a great experience and has brought my confidence on. I had a group of players who had played in previous years, like Mark Bennett, Adam Ashe and Will Bordill, so they were always very helpful to me.
“I know it will be the same with this group of players. I’m still only 19 and it’s very daunting, but there are guys in the squad who have plenty of experience.
“Beating England again will be a hard act to repeat because, when you look at their squad, they’ve got talent throughout it, as well as a mixture of experience and new faces.”
One reason why Gray finds himself in the A squad after his caps against South Africa and Australia is that he is still completing his recovery from an ankle injury. “It’s a lot better,” he reported.
“The physios and doctors have looked after me well and I’ve come back earlier than I thought.
“It was supposed to be eight to twelve weeks, so I’m glad to be back ahead of schedule.”
Scotland A head coach Shade Munro, who looks after the player at Glasgow, said: “Jonny is a mature player and the feedback I received from Sean Lineen [the Scotland under-20 coach] was that he was an excellent and successful captain last year.
“He is definitely one of the leaders in this squad and at Glasgow he’s one of our lineout callers. Therefore he is creating a skill set that is suitable to leading a team.”
An SRU spokesman said last night that there was no contingency plan to take the England Saxons match elsewhere – even though areas of the Scotstoun pitch were under water in dry conditions yesterday.
Glasgow’s last two RaboDirect games were called off at short notice because the pitch was waterlogged but, as things stand, the plan is to rely on the covers which allowed last Saturday’s Heineken Cup match against Toulon to proceed.
• JONNY Gray can still force his way into Scotland’s RBS Six Nations squad, according to caretaker head coach Scott Johnson.
The 19-year-old lock will captain the Scotland A squad to face England Saxons at home club Glasgow’s Scotstoun Stadium on Friday, 31 January.
Scotland take on Ireland in the Six Nations opener two days later in Dublin, ruling Gray out of the first round of championship action.
Johnson said a strong performance against the Saxons could easily fire Gray back into the senior squad though, as he continues his recovery from ankle problems.
“Jonny played Test footy in the autumn. He’s had significant ankle trouble and is on his way back,” Johnson said. “He’s a wonderful player, a special player. You’ll be talking about him in years to come.
“So he’s part of the growth and development of this Scottish nation. Anyone who plays well in that match, they will have a chance, so it’s important for us.”
2014 Scotland A squad:
Forwards – Olly Atkins (Edinburgh Rugby), Fraser Brown, Kevin Bryce (both Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Jonny Gray, Robert Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Allister Hogg (Newcastle Falcons), Tyrone Holmes, Ed Kalman (both Glasgow Warriors), Kieran Low (London Irish), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Shiells (Newcastle Falcons) and Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors).
Backs – Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Jack Cuthbert, Dougie Fife (both Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Grayson Hart (Edinburgh Rugby), Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby), Byron McGuigan, Henry Pyrgos (both Glasgow Warriors), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby) and Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors).
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