Jonny Gray gearing up to tackle the French

Scotland's Jonny Gray is confident ahead of this weekend's visit to Paris. Picture: SRU/SNS Group Paul Devlin
Scotland's Jonny Gray is confident ahead of this weekend's visit to Paris. Picture: SRU/SNS Group Paul Devlin
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Statistics can be misleading but they may also offer an occasional insight into why coaches select certain players. In the opening match against Italy, Grant Gilchrist managed 17 tackles, his second-row partner just six – which is one of the reasons that Ben Toolis was replaced by Jonny Gray for the arrival of Ireland.

In that match both locks, Gray and Gilchrist, managed 24 and 25 tackles respectively, which is the sort of numbers you’d expect from a back-row forward. And, just to prove it, Jamie Ritchie made 24 and Josh Strauss, who was far more involved than is sometimes the case, made an eye-catching 25.

Gilchrist is beginning to uncover the form that had Toulon waving their cheque book under his nose a few years back, while Jonny Gray is utterly dependable, a tackling machine even if he lacks a little oomph when it comes to open play. Brother Richie is on the mend – he played his second game back after an operation yesterday as Finn Russell’s Racing hosted Toulouse in Paris.

Add into the mix the young pretenders, Callum Hunter-Hill from Edinburgh and the Warriors’ Scott Cummings, and Gregor Townsend is spoilt for choice.

“There is so much competition throughout the squad,” Jonny Gray insists. “I think there has always been competition. I’ve always been pretty lucky to have the people I’ve had ever since I started at Cambuslang. When I started off at Glasgow I had Al [Kellock]. I was competing with him for the jersey but at the same time he would sit down and show me what I had to do and how I could get better.

“It’s the same now with Gilcho and Ben and Swinno and Rob [Harley]. It’s very competitive, but when you look at all the positions throughout the team it is the same. But when we are training it’s full on and very intense but afterwards everyone is together and we’re looking at how we can improve because the big picture is about how Scotland can get results.

“When you look at how Ben and Gilcho have been playing, they have been outstanding for Edinburgh. You look at the depth as well because they have Fraser McKenzie and Hunter-Hill and Lewis Carmichael who is injured at the moment.

“There is talent at Glasgow as well. I think Rob Harley has been outstanding from back row to second row. He is a guy you can count on all the time. Then there is Swinno and Scott Cummings as well. There is a lot of competition and a lot of talent...and hopefully Richie as well.”

Quite who Townsend, pictured, will favour when every lock is fighting fit is anyone’s guess, but the coach will be crossing his fingers that he is presented with that problem in Japan if not before, because it’s been a while. Although not as long as Scotland’s wait for a win in Paris. Only once have the Scots tasted victory in Stade de France, and the manner of that 1999 win offers a blueprint for success. The backs were accurate and incisive, the forwards aggressive and quick about the park.

Gray acknowledges that the loss of “world class” Stuart Hogg is a blow to Scotland’s chances on Saturday but he has nothing but praise for his likely replacement Blair Kinghorn, who he says is “a great guy to have in the squad”.

It is worth pointing out that Scotland are currently ranked three places above France, which may give the Scots some confidence, but a trip to Paris has its own challenges, even without the monkey on Scotland’s back.

“Every international has got its challenges,” argues the lock. “It is such a hard game, very physical, fast and intense. To go over to France will be a huge challenge.

“When you watch France and see what they can do, they are so talented and they can create something out of 
nothing.

“If you look at the players, they have a massive pack but they also have guys in there who can create something out of nothing. Their backs are fast and electric so it will be a huge challenge. You look at all their players and what they can do with the ball. In that Wales game they were very unlucky because you could see 
how much damage they can cause.

“They are playing at home and we are going over there so it is going to be a huge challenge.

“They will want to win as well so it is going to be a huge game and we know how tough and physical it is going to be. We have to get all our preparation right.”

Scotland could get everything right, preparation and performance, and still finish second on Saturday.

The winner of this one will likely be determined by which France team turns up, rather than anything Scotland bring to the table.

But nobody knows what France team will take to the turf, heroes or villains? In fact Gray’s impressive tackle count is probably the only sure thing about Saturday’s Test.