Yesterday we raised a glass and celebrated the 50th birthday of the “Mad Giraffe” Doddie Weir and now we have the prospect of a more laid-back member of the tallest mammal species gracing Scottish rugby once again as Richie Gray returns to his Glasgow roots.
With professional rugby due to start up again on 22 August with two back-to-back Glasgow-Edinburgh derbies, new Warriors head coach Danny Wilson is finally managing to get his feet under the table, albeit in the still abnormal and unpredictable circumstances we find ourselves in.
Getting players together, face-to-face conversations, proper training are at the forefront, but not far behind will be the appointment of an official club captain for a season yet to finish and another yet to start.
The return of 65-times capped Richie Gray has been a boon for the club after the loss of his younger brother, Jonny, to Exeter Chiefs but it is likely that the 30-year-old 6ft 10in blond specimen will be more of a wise owl in the background rather than the figurehead of the new Wilson era at Scotstoun.
An enigmatic character, Gray, inset, appeared to have called time on his international career last year when he declined to be involved in the World Cup due to a long recovery from injury and the summer arrival of a child but has since hinted he is still available for national service. In the meantime he will be finding his feet back at the home city club he left eight years ago for Sale Sharks before spells at Castres and Toulouse in France.
Callum Gibbins was the lead member of the co-captaincy with Ryan Wilson of late but the Kiwi has now departed, leaving former Cardiff Blues boss and Scotland forwards coach Wilson with one of his first big calls.
“Where Richie is a leader is at lineout time,” said the new Warriors head coach. “We’ve seen him call lineouts and run them for Toulouse and is very experienced in that from an international point of view.
“Richie is going to come in with a vast amount of experience. He’ll really be able to help our younger players and the forwards. He’s probably a quieter type of leader. He leads by example. He’s a fans’ favourite at Scotstoun and I’m really looking forward to working with him.
“I perhaps thought I would have been working with him with Scotland over the past 18 months but for a number of reasons that didn’t happen. Now I’ve got that opportunity I’m looking forward to it. There’s all type of leaders, some by example, some by voice. He’s very much by example.”
Wilson explained the decision on the captaincy will come in due course.
“For the simple reason that I prefer to make decisions like that face to face,” he said. “One of the things when we finally get into proper rugby, training then those meetings will take place, what the leadership group looks like. You’ll look at those guys Ryan Wilson, the Hornes [Pete and George], those type of guys. But we’re yet to sit down and say what the leadership group is and the next thing would be captaincy, but these things are on the horizon.”
Another job high on the list is gelling together the new management team, which includes the appointment of former Ireland centre Jonny Bell as attack coach. Former hooker Wilson is a forwards specialist but has John Dalziel on hand as specialist in that area.
“My coaching is around contact so I’ll be involved in those areas definitely,” said Wilson. “The difference is a head coach you have so many other areas to cover, whether it’s recruitment, managing the programme, staff and individuals and the big picture.
“So having those extra hands is an absolute necessity, there’s no way I could go into the same depth around set-piece and contact when I’m an assistant coach with only those responsibilities. I’ll have help but I’ll still be a hands-on coach on the field.”
Wilson won the 2018 European Challenge Cup with Cardiff and is looking forward to being the top dog once again but values the experience he had as assistant to Gregor Townsend in the lead up to and experience of Japan 2019.
“It is a unique experience international rugby,” he said. “At a club you go on a longer journey and spend more time hands on with players to imprint a culture and environment, develop relationships. In international rugby you can get them a week or ten days before your next game and you’re thinking ‘how much can we really put on them to be physically and mentally right to go into that game?’
“So it’s a different approach.”
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