A succession of injuries hindered him in recent seasons and he opted out of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan to spend time with his new-born son.
Now 31, the big lock has rejoined Glasgow Warriors and been recalled to a national squad preparing for next Friday’s match with Georgia.
It feels like a homecoming for a player who has won 65 caps and is delighted to be back.
“Every player wants to play international rugby,” he says. “What have I got left over [to give]? I’m not sure. I do believe I can offer something. That is why I’m here.”
His last cap came as a replacement against Italy in the Six Nations in March 2018. His last start for Scotland was a year previously in that awful 61-21 shellacking in the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham.
It is not how he would have wanted to go out but was it preying on his mind that his international career was over?
“It probably was, yes. I wasn’t sure how things would be after the World Cup, and you never know what is going to happen. Fortunately, I was able to get back to Glasgow Warriors – which I am very thankful for – and now I have been invited into this environment, so the chance is there again and it is just about taking the opportunity. But, yeah, there was a period after the World Cup when I thought that it might have been it all over.”
Gray was asked last year by Scotland coach Gregor Townsend to attend a pre-tournament training camp but the timing was all wrong for the player whose wife had just given birth to their son.
“It was pretty simple, really,” explains Gray. “It was the birth of my child in May and the camp was two weeks after that, and I wanted to be around for my wife and my son. To go away for the World Cup, that would have been a few months that requires a lot, and I just didn’t feel I was in the best place to offer that. And, also, I had just come back from injury, so probably wasn’t in the best place physically. So those two reasons were the deciding factors, and Gregor understood.”
He stresses that at no point did he “burn his bridges” with Townsend and that his absence from the first four matches of this year’s Six Nations was down to injury. When asked to be part of the squad this time around, he answered immediately and in the affirmative.
“Oh yeah, there was no question,” says Gray. “Gregor sent me a text on the Sunday night to say I was involved and I texted back straight away to say that I can’t wait to be a part of it. It is just great because I’m in a far better place than I was at World Cup time.”