The Six Nations-ending ankle injury picked up by the skipper and scrum-half in Paris a week past Sunday meant that was not the case at the national squad’s Oriam training base yesterday, with the identity of his successor for Saturday’s clash with Wales at BT Murrayfield not to be revealed until tomorrow, when the new leader will face the media with head coach Vern Cotter following the team announcement.
The attendant press did get to chat with a man who has an insight into one of the leading contenders, though, as Richie Gray spoke about the attributes his brother Jonny could bring to the role if called upon.
The younger Gray finished the game at Stade de France, which Scotland lost 22-16, as captain due to John Barclay following Laidlaw off injured after just six minutes of deputising.
It was the first time that Richie, 27, had experienced being captained by his 22-year-old “wee” brother, who is a mere 6ft 6in to the elder sibling’s 6ft 10in.
“Yes it was the first time I’ve been captained by Jonny but it wasn’t strange for me at all. That’s just the way it is for me these days,” said Richie.
The brothers are regularly up at the top of the tackle charts, though when asked if there was any rivalry over that, Richie chuckled and said: “There can’t be because I keep losing. There’s no competition, I’m just trying to get as close to him as I can.”
Jonny is co-captain of Glasgow Warriors along with Henry Pyrgos, although fit-again Scarlets flanker Barclay is probably the favourite to lead Scotland out on Saturday against the nation where he lives and plays his club rugby. The 30-year-old has 57 caps to Jonny Gray’s 30 and that experience, along with his more vocal communication skills, should see him get the nod.
However, Richie believes his brother would be more than up to the task if Cotter picks his lock partner. “Jonny’s a reserved guy, he’s reserved in training and on the pitch as well. He’s not the type to go about shouting and bawling,” explained Richie. “Actions often speak louder than words and he’s that type of guy.
“Obviously teams need a captain and need to be led well but let’s not get too bogged down with it. We’ve got a good leadership group and whoever is captain will step up and take it on from there. We’re not going to win or lose the game by whom we name as captain, we’ll win by how we play the game.”
The Gray brothers played the full 80 minutes of that brutal match in France, which Richie said was “up there” with the most physical games he has ever been involved in. As well as Laidlaw, Scotland lost a number of players to head knocks and Josh Strauss also picked up a Six Nations-ending kidney injury.
“It’s always a different game when you play France, it’s very attritional and it’s more of an arm wrestle,” said the man who now plays for Toulouse after a spell at Castres. “It’s about big contacts in the scrum and the maul and it does take its toll on you.
“I face that every week at club level but international rugby is different from club games. There is a higher intensity about it.”
Scotland were competitive in France but let things slip away and failed to follow up on that opening win over Ireland.
“The positive to take from the France game was that we didn’t play anywhere near as well as we could have done and yet we were still in it at the end,” added Gray. “All of the boys were very frustrated the day after the game. We weren’t able to get into our flow or the way we wanted to play.
“You need to give credit to France for stopping us from doing that but it was very frustrating. It was our own errors which cost us and we can play a lot better than that and we need to rectify that this weekend.”
In players’ parlance the next game is always the biggest game but Gray did concede that this encounter with Wales, who Scotland are looking to beat for the first time since 2007, is looming as the defining match of the campaign. Win and it’s on to a shot at the Triple Crown at Twickenham, lose and things start to look a bit bleak.
“It’s a huge game obviously,” said Gray. “It’s the middle of the championship, the teams seem evenly balanced and a lot could swing this weekend. If we were to pick up a win we’d pick up a huge amount of momentum and confidence. We would then go into the last two games with a decent shout at a strong finish.”