Richie Gray enjoying being back with Scotland
More than a decade has elapsed since Richie Gray first took to the pitch for his Scotland debut campaign, during which the second row came up against the grand old names of Lionel Nallet, Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O’Connell, to name but three.
In his initial Scotland outings, Gray experienced a notable away win against Ireland at Croke Park, a first international start at home to the ever-mesmerising All Blacks and a terrific win over then-world champions South Africa at BT Murrayfield, games that would form the embryonic stages of the 21-year-old future British & Irish Lion’s career.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a fresh memory in my mind, but when you say it like that it’s actually not a bad first run of games for Scotland”, he said in an interview with Scottish Rugby.
“I’ve not had time to reflect in that way because I’m still continuing in my career, but certainly that first cap against France and then beating South Africa that November were pretty special.”
After moving back to first club Glasgow Warriors following stints with Sale Sharks, Castres and Toulouse, with whom he won a league title, Gray’s rugby journey has gone full circle. Added to the fact he is now a father, the landscape is certainly different for the 31-year-old compared to that BT Murrayfield debut some 11 years ago.
“I definitely feel good,” he added. “I think I’m come into camp with a different mentality. When you’re young, you come in trying to impress as much as you can but after a few years it’s more about helping people around you, enjoying the environment a bit more.
“I’ve heard a lot of sports people describe it [starting a family] as a nice distraction, something completely away from rugby and it certainly brings you down a peg or two and helps you to realise that sometimes there are things a bit more important than rugby, so it’s great from that point of view.”
65 caps and a 2013 British & Irish Lions tour, during which he earned a full cap in the series-clinching third Test, have come and gone for Gray, but the hunger to improve his game remains as healthy as ever.
“You’re always learning and in the 11 years from my first cap, rugby is almost unrecognisable now. The technical, physical and mental sides of things have come on leaps and bounds so you’re constantly picking up new things and every day is different to the last so you never feel like things are standing still.”
“We’ve spoken about how in these times sport can uplift people and give them a boost, and that was a part of our kind of mission statement, to inspire and lift the nation." Richie Gray
Living in the current climate, and the ability to have live sport available to fans the world over, are factors not lost on Gray, whose excitement during another Guinness Six Nations campaign is equalled by a desire to bring smiles to the faces of rugby fans, as he explained: “I think we’re in a very privileged position at this moment in time where we get to sit and have a chat with our mates and I know for a lot of people that is something they can’t do, so we definitely consider ourselves very lucky.
“We’ve spoken about how in these times sport can uplift people and give them a boost, and that was a part of our kind of mission statement, to inspire and lift the nation. Hopefully we can do that and there’s a huge buzz around camp.
“I think it’s a very tight-knit group and I know there’s been a focus on creating a squad where we’re very open and have a relaxing environment that people are happy to be a part of.
This weekend, Scotland travel to Paris to play France in Round 3 of the Guinness Six Nations.
Despite a number of France players testing positive for Coronavirus and dropping out of the squad, the game is scheduled to go ahead as normal on Sunday afternoon.
Richie knows the depth the French have in their squad and believes it will be a tough match at the Stage de France, whichever team Fabien Galthie names.
He added: “France have such depth and such talent. They are able to bring in guys who are equally as good. They back up Dupont with Baptiste Serin and Sebastien Bezy who are top quality nines.
“I don’t think it will affect them too much. They are a strong team and a strong squad.
“France have struck a really good balance under Fabien Galthie. They play smart rugby and get out of their half really well.
“They are quite structured now but within that structure they have their X factor players who are able to do it on the big moments. The balance is really good between structure and using players’ abilities to their best.
“We certainly have the talent in the squad to do it, but it will be a really tough encounter. We have to be at our best to win.”