Scotland's Richie Gray opens up on tussles with Ireland's Peter O'Mahony - 'he ran around the corner and he belted me'
He did in 2013 and again in 2017. A repeat on Saturday night in Paris would top all that and Gray knows Scotland will need to tame an Irish pack for whom Peter O’Mahony will win his 100th cap. The Munster captain, who will become only the tenth Irishman to reach the century landmark, has been a thorn in Scotland’s side for years, one of the chief reasons Gregor Townsend’s team have lost eight in a row against the Irish.
Gray’s experiences against him stretch way back to 2009 and an under-20s fixture at McDiarmid Park in Perth. “I remember because he ran around the corner and he belted me! I remember looking around thinking ‘that was a decent hit’ and I remember it being him. And we’ve had a few tussles since.
“He’s an abrasive character, you talk about the dark arts around the breakdown, very good, very smart, good in defence. If I look at my main area, the lineout, he’s very athletic and a good ball-winning option, he causes defences a lot of issues because he’s very good in that defensive role whether jumping or lifting. So a very smart operator and trying to pick up what he’s doing can be difficult. So I think there’s a lot to his game.”
Gray, playing in his third World Cup, has fond memories of his wins over Ireland, particularly in 2017 when the Irish turned up late and Scotland made them pay. “In 2013 Scotland weren’t in much form and we managed to pull off a victory against the odds. Ireland probably played better on the day but we managed to get the win because they didn’t take their chances,” recalled Gray. “I thought we performed really well in 2017. I think there was a lot of chat about a late bus or whatever it was but I thought we came out the gate really well. We were physical and abrasive and managed to build up a scoreline which was good enough to see us through to the end of the game.”
He says the victories are of little consequence in the context of this weekend’s World Cup Pool B decider and he won’t be handing out tips to his team-mates on how to get the better of the Irish. “No, not at all,” he said. “It is a totally different time. It’s a totally different team. So there’s not much you can draw on. The biggest thing we have touched on, as well as all the technical elements, is to embrace this week for what it is.”
Gray, with 77 Scotland appearances, is the most capped member of the XV who will face Ireland in Paris. He’s back on the World Cup stage after an eight-year absence and, at 34, relishing his role now as a senior statesman in the squad. “I’ve enjoyed it,” he said “I’m not taking the days and weeks for granted. I’m enjoying the occasion and this week, how big the game is at the end, being back in France and how privileged we are to be here in a country that loves its rugby.”