Jonny Gray is unfazed by recent speculation linking him with a move to England and is looking forward to getting back in a Scotland shirt after battling back from a wrist injury he suffered on the summer tour.
There have been reports that the Glasgow forward could be joining English Championship frontrunners Bristol next season after former Scotland lock Jim Hamilton claimed it was a “done deal” in a rugby podcast. It is believed that Gray is considering another Warriors deal, with France a more likely destination if he does leave, but the 23-year-old is oblivious to the talk.
“I haven’t read the piece,” he said. “I respect Jim a lot, he is very honest. When I first came into Scotland I looked up to him. He trained very hard, but he was respectful of me, too, and, with the number of caps and the presence he had, he took me under his wing.
“He experienced a lot, but I always want to get better and I know I have a long way to go. Watching guys like Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje and George Kruis helps and in the summer I really got a chance to look at my game and I will keep pushing on.”
Those are the type of second rows who forced Gray out of the reckoning for a British and Irish Lions place which, going into last season, seemed well within his grasp.
Gray, right, who will be hoping to win his 36th cap against Samoa on Saturday, has refused to let the Lions disappointment weigh on his shoulders.
“I think whatever environment I am in I will keep pushing forward,” he said. “Being honest I didn’t think if you get picked for the Lions it would be the pinnacle of anyone’s career. To have my name thrown in the mix with world class second-rows was good, but I didn’t expect to be picked.”
Gray is just enjoying being back on the field after the frustrations of missing the early part of the season.
“It has been good, it has been different it is the first major injury I have ever had,” he explained.
“The people at Glasgow and Scotland just said to me, it is an opportunity to work on things you don’t normally get to work on and just relax, get out of rugby and focus on individual and team targets.
“At times I wanted to get back straight away and train, but they held me back and told me to go away and look at different sports – the Tour de France, some NFL stuff – it is good to just try different things and look at my own game.
“I will always have improvements to make, but it is great to have the quality of people we have at Glasgow and Scotland helping me along, you can speak to them any time and they are very honest.”
After a relentless grind over the past few seasons the break gave the lock a bit of space and thinking time to assess his game and consider how he will now push his career forward to the next stage.
“It was good to look at other footage, the Lions and look at the talent out there and compare yourself to it without a game coming up in the next week. You only learn things sometimes when you take a step back or watch other sports, but when the season started it was a bit of a struggle watching.”
Gray was co-captain of Glasgow with Henry Pyrgos last season but new Warriors coach Dave Rennie has gone with Ryan Wilson as his sole leader for this campaign.
“I wouldn’t say it was a disappointment. I was very proud when asked to be captain in the city where my family and friends are from,” said Gray.
“I had a conversation with Dave and I agreed with him, I was going to be out for the start of the season and Ryan Wilson is a guy – I think when you watch him play you know how much he cares – he is the right man for the job.”
He may only be 23 but Gray remains one of the leaders for club and country and has relished mentoring 20-year-old clubmate Scott Cummings, who is in the Scotland squad.
“I like to think I am helping him along. He has done really well. At gym time or after a lineout session we are always chatting to each other and we have a good relationship. He has a lot of potential.”