The 25-year-old Glasgow Warriors lock has been left kicking his heels for the first half of Scotland’s World Cup warm-up Test series away and home to France after tweaking a hamstring and remains a doubt ahead of the historic occasion in Tbilisi, when head coach Gregor Townsend’s men become the first major rugby nation to play the emerging east Europeans at what will be a sold-out Dinamo Stadium.
“He [Jonny] trained today [Tuesday],” reported forwards coach Danny Wilson yesterday.
“It takes a bit of time for him to tick the relevant boxes and it is a short time frame for him but he is in a better place than he was last week.”
It could be that the younger Gray brother has to wait until the final warm-up game, when the Georgians come to Edinburgh a week on Friday, following the final 31-man squad announcement on Tuesday, to get a proper hit out.
His big brother Richie has made himself unavailable for the tournament, which starts in 25 days for the Scots in their opening pool match against Ireland in Yokohama, but Tim Swinson has been called in to boost numbers in the engine room following Exeter lock Sam Skinner having his Japan dream wrecked by a hamstring injury in Saturday’s 17-14 win over France at BT Murrayfield.
An SRU press release suggested that the 32-year-old Swinson was just in to boost training numbers but the Glasgow veteran’s versatility with his ability to play both second and back row makes him a viable candidate for a shot at a second successive World Cup
“There are a number of players who tick that box,” said pack chief Wilson. “I’m not sure [back-rowers] Ryan Wilson or John Barclay were too keen on going in the second row at the weekend [following Skinner’s injury and substitutions] but needs must.
“There is an example of it happening at the weekend and straight away that is a situation that we were concerned about the scrum but managed to stay [with France] in terms of parity.
“We have a number of players who can play in two positions and that is a big decision to make. I think there’s definitely an open opportunity for boys to perform in these games and then get picked [for the final squad] but first of all he [Swinson] will have to get picked for the game, and as I said right at this minute it’s just a training situation, where he’s coming in to train, and we’ll see how that goes over the next few days. Obviously we’ve got two games left before we jump on the plane.”
Yesterday’s press release appeared to be the end for Skinner’s hopes of making that plane.
It read: “Skinner had the muscle scanned at Spire Murrayfield Hospital on the evening of the match, with the time taken to recover deemed insufficient to play a meaningful part in Scotland’s Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign.”
However, Wilson hinted yesterday that all hope was not lost yet. “We’re not 100 per cent sure of that,” said the forwards coach. “We’re still at the early stages of trying to get that diagnosis of the timeframe, but right this minute now it does prevent him for the next four weeks as a minimum from being able to do anything, which obviously gives us a big headache in terms of getting on the plane with fit players, a fit squad.
“But, hopefully, with Sam being as professional as I know he’ll be, he’ll return as quickly as possible for us. Depending on whether there were injuries, there’s hopefully a fit body in four, six, eight weeks, but it’s not for me to make that time call, that’s going to come from the physios when we get the opportunity.” Wilson added that Scarlets flanker Blade Thomson, pictured inset, and Glasgow wing Tommy Seymour were still in the early stage of concussion protocols after picking up head knocks in the win over France at the weekend.
On the Tbilisi game itself, Wilson added: “First of all, the challenge of going to Georgia is massive. I think we know what Georgia have proved to be, a real handful for sides with a big pack of forwards and they play a direct style of rugby. From a physical point of view it is going to be a huge challenge.
“From the away game point of view, which we have made no secret about, we want to be able to go on the road and be far better than we have been.”