One of the country’s most experienced and recognisable players, the 6ft 10in second row became a father at the end of May when his wife, the model and former Miss Scotland Ellie McKeating, whom he married in France last July, gave birth to son Ostin.
The absence of the 30-year-old former Lions lock in Scotland’s training squad has been a talking point all summer and a hamstring injury to Exeter Chiefs second-row Sam Skinner in last Saturday’s 17-14 win over France at BT Murrayfield raised the prospect that head coach Gregor Townsend may yet call on the Toulouse forward, who has 66 Test caps and recently helped his club win the French title.
Skinner has been ruled out of the World Cup but it was confirmed that Gray had turned down the chance to play in the tournament due to “family reasons” as his ex-Glasgow team-mate Tim Swinson was invited to train with the squad ahead of Saturday’s away game against Georgia.
Scotland forwards coach Danny Wilson said the decision was not made by Townsend but Gray – who has had to juggle the birth of his baby son with his fitness battles in recent months.
Gray has not played for Scotland since the 29-27 Six Nations win over Italy in Rome 18 months ago, with back and hip injuries ruling him out for much of that period.
The lock battled back from surgery on his most recent back injury to help Toulouse lift the Top 14 title and there have been raised eyebrows among Scotland rugby fans over why such a seasoned campaigner was out of the picture as Japan looms.
“First of all, the most important thing is that if these decisions are based on family there are a number of things that can cause that decision and we have to respect that decision first of all and the reasons it was made,” said Wilson.
Asked if Gray’s decision had come after Skinner’s injury blow or had been previously communicated to management, the assistant coach said: “You probably genuinely need to ask Gregor that question.
“I know they had been in conversation for a while and this is not something that happened overnight. Obviously there is a full stop drawn due to Sam’s situation.
“It is a point where I can say to you now this is the situation, but as for the history of it you’re asking the wrong man.” Wilson added:
“Gregor has been in constant conversation with Richie. But due to family reasons and perhaps returning from injury and fitness he has decided that he could not commit to the World Cup. It was Richie’s decision.
“From my end I really admire the player. I think he’s been a great player for Scotland over the years as he is a quality rugby player.
“Timing does come into these things at times and obviously that’s a personal choice which we understand from Richie. I’ve never actually worked with him, he’s not been in the squad since I began my time with Scotland. Hopefully that will happen in the future, but we’ll see.”
Swinson has now been given the chance to stake a claim for a seat on the plane to Japan although he does not have long, with Townsend set to unveil his 31-man travelling party at a special ceremony at Linlithgow Palace next Tuesday.
Asked in June at the start of the summer’s World Cup preparations, Townsend said Gray, whose younger brother and fellow lock Jonny is in the squad and trying to shake off a hamstring tweak ahead of Georgia, would “definitely be in the mix” if second-row injuries were picked up.
Former Glasgow, Sale and Castres forward Gray came off the bench during Toulouse’s French Top 14 final win over Greig Laidlaw’s Clermont-Auvergne in June and was a starter at the weekend as their title defence began with a 30-25 loss to Bordeaux-Begles.