It’s been a while since both of Scotland’s pro-teams have been in the European Champions Cup and it’s been even longer since they both recorded good wins in the same weekend of the competition. Edinburgh beat three-time winners Toulon by four tries to two, while Glasgow got off the mark with a well-deserved victory against Cardiff – where several of their players will return to next weekend in Scotland colours to take on Wales, looking for revenge following that one-sided 34-7 defeat in the opening match of last season’s Six Nations.
“It was good for both teams to come off good wins,” said Jonny Gray, the Glasgow and Scotland lock. “I haven’t seen Edinburgh’s game but it was a great result. They were unfortunate the week before at Montpellier [losing 21-15], that’s a tough place to go. You look at the form they’ve been in recently, they’re playing really well.
“Both teams are playing well. At Glasgow we’ve had some good results but we know some things are not there yet. Look at this time last year – we had a good run but there were always things we had to work on and ultimately we didn’t finish the season well. But we’re never complacent and I think that’s what’s great about the culture and the environment, the players and the coaches won’t let that happen.
“We knew Cardiff was a big pressure game, especially after their win in Lyon [in the opening round of Champions Cup fixtures]. We had to perform in a whole number of areas but we’re happy to do that. It’s good to come into [Scotland] camp on the back of wins like that but we’re playing Wales and the last time we played them they beat us and they played really well. There were a few things we were disappointed with that day but we know things won’t change, we’re up against a good team in Cardiff next week.”
“It is something you don’t forget,” Gray said of Scotland’s last visit to the Welsh capital. “It wasn’t good, it was just the way they played. How strong they were up front, their strike runners, the way they can attack from anywhere. It was disappointing that day but we’ve improved a lot since then. It’s what’s great about Glasgow and here at Scotland, the culture is all about improving every day.”
National coach Gregor Townsend will have only one Gray brother at his disposal for the autumn Test series, with older sibling Richie ruled out once again through injury.
That is a great pity because the Gray boys seem to spur each other on when partnered together in the second row, the pair adding up to more than the sum of the individual parts. Richie’s hip required surgery after just one game back for Toulouse, but if his club missed the big Scot they concealed it pretty well, beating Champions Cup holders Leinster at the weekend.
“I am gutted for him,” said Jonny. “First of all I miss the chance to see him, it’s been a while. He came back and now to get this injury, obviously I wish him all the luck with his recovery. But Richie’s one of the most determined guys I know, having grown up with him. As I said before, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be playing pro rugby probably. It’s a tough one for him to take but I’m sure he’ll battle back and hopefully this is the last of a bad run he’s had.
“He’ll do his recovery and everything he has to go through. He’s very determined and he’ll be very focused. When you speak to Rich he won’t give much away but he’s a very determined guy.”
Richie is absent but that does not mean that the competition for second row berths got any easier. New boy Sam Skinner of the Exeter Chiefs is a specialist lock and lineout expert – a direct rival for Jonny and likely to get capped at some point during autumn.
The Scarlets’ Blade Thomson is a more athletic type, a breakaway who can play lock, rather than the other way round. He showed up well last weekend against Leicester, scoring one good try and having another wiped off by the TMO, but the Kiwi was arguably at fault for one Leicester score when he was caught a little too wide at a breakdown on his own try line.
Neither of the above will be available for the Wales game which Gray is likely to start, probably alongside Grant Gilchrist. But the new faces are not only to be found among the players because Scotland’s big men have a new boss, Danny Wilson, former head coach of the Cardiff Blues, who is now in charge of the Scotland forwards and must have enjoyed Glasgow’s demolition job last weekend more than most.
“Danny Wilson’s been in a few times at Glasgow, speaking about different ideas,” said Gray. “It’s what’s great about rugby here, he’s very open to what we’ve been doing here and he’s a good guy to work with, easy to get on with. It’s quite exciting to get to work with people you don’t train with every week.
“I like different ideas that make you think about things. Just a day and a half we’ve been here but I’ve been picking up things already that will improve me.
“He’s been sitting a lot with different guys speaking about calling the lineout, scrum set-piece, the different things we do in the contact area, stuff like that. He’s been speaking to guys with different clubs and putting a few of his own ideas. We had a session yesterday and today and some of his ideas are coming in already, so it’s been good.”