Jonny Gray excited by Scotland's '˜huge challenge' in Sydney

Given the kind of season he has had, you might have thought Jonny Gray would have been glad of a rest last weekend. Far from it '“ so much so that when John Hardie hobbled out of the pre-match warm-up Gray raced up to Gregor Townsend's side, begging to take the vacant spot among the replacements.
Jonny Gray, in training yesterday, is encouraged by the grassroots system in Scottish rugby. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport.Jonny Gray, in training yesterday, is encouraged by the grassroots system in Scottish rugby. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport.
Jonny Gray, in training yesterday, is encouraged by the grassroots system in Scottish rugby. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport.

“You get very emotional sitting in the stand,” he pointed out. “Watching it was tough but at the same time it was great to see the boys working for each other. Makes you want to be out there…”

In the end, the order to rest survived and, after naming six forwards and only two backs in the original 23, Townsend elected to bring Rory Hughes, a wing, on to the bench instead.

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It left Gray obviously frustrated – as a 23-year-old player he is not a good watcher – but now he is ready to take it out on the Wallabies, looking for Scotland’s first win in Sydney and only their third in 

“When you look at the way Australia play, they are a world-class team,” he pointed out. “It is exciting with Gregor [Townsend, the head coach] and the way we play, it is all about building, fixing the things while keeping up the work ethic.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge, but it is exciting. I hope we get a win.”

Gray is likely to be forging a new second-row partnershp with Ben Toolis, the Edinburgh lock, who was the players’ man of the match in Singapore last week. It is something that Gray is looking forward to after a couple of seasons of only coming across each other as derby-match rivals.

“Off the pitch Ben is a great guy, he’s pretty chilled out,” said Gray. “He’s very fast, very dynamic, a big mobile guy with great skills. It’s great working with him and it’s good to hear his ideas.

“It’s good to play with guys you don’t get to play with often. You get different perspectives on things and tips here and there. He is a good guy to play with.”

It may be something that he has to get used to. Bizarrely, since Gray was first capped in November 2013, last weekend was only the second time that neither he nor his brother was involved in the matchday squad, but as he noted there is concrete evidence of increasing competition from the emerging youngsters.

The most significant proof probably came in the early hours of the morning, 
Australian time, when the Under 20s beat Wales to guarantee a record high finish in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.

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Gray, like most of his colleagues, caught up with the match in he morning. It is just four years since he captained the same team in the same competition, so he has strong memories of what it is like and he was impressed.

“Every day you pick up different things. The World Championship is a great experience. You pick up loads being in that environment and playing against these other teams and playing different styles,” he added.

“It’s a lot of credit to the grassroots and the academies that there are more and more of these guys. It all comes down to the grassroots – if it wasn’t for Cambuslang and the coaches there, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Throughout Scottish rugby there is a real community feeling.

“We have guys training with Glasgow and it’s great; good experience for them and for us. We get to learn from them as well because they always bring great energy. It all comes back to the culture and how hard you work. That’s the nuber one rule.”

It seems that Scotland have been working on a plan to beat Australia pretty much since they got together early last month. Now that they are here and ready to play, the question is how well they execute it, says Ryan Wilson, the back row.

“We’ve done a lot of work on contact and have been going through that sort of stuff. We will see what they throw at us. They have people like [Michael] Hooper [the Wallaby flanker], who is a nightmare at the breakdown but if you run at him with the ball, he is not as effective getting on to it because he is having to tackle,” he revealed.

“We had a sit down before we left to discuss what we wanted to get out of the tour. The core group of players will probably go on to the World Cup. Look at it that way – if you start bonding people now, it will be effective when the Autumn Tests and Six Nations come round. It is a big part of building towards the World Cup.

“That is how we are looking at it – the summer tour is part of that, getting everything right, getting systems in place. And we want three wins.”