Gray relishing ‘tasty’ battle for second-row spot

Richie Gray models Scotland's new kit at Calton Hill. Grant Gilchrist is pictured below
Richie Gray models Scotland's new kit at Calton Hill. Grant Gilchrist is pictured below
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Having himself just returned from an injury lay-off, Scotland’s Richie Gray knows just how fellow second row Grant Gilchrist is feeling right now, with the two second rows itching to get back to international action come August.

Castres star Gray was out for three months from February to May with an arm tendon injury while Edinburgh Rugby man Gilchrist has been kicking his heels in the stands since November after he broke his arm against Lyon.

Just days before the latter injury occurred, 24-year-old Gilchrist had been named Scotland captain for the Autumn Tests by head coach Vern Cotter.

So, it has been no surprise to Gray that Gilchrist has really hit the ground running in the first few weeks of the Rugby World Cup training camp as he aims to secure a spot in the 31-man squad for the big event in September and October.

“Grant has been out for quite a while, so obviously he has been raring to get going after a lay-off, as I have been too,” said Gray, 25.

“He is coming along quite well – after a while out you are just trying to find your feet again and I have been speaking to him quite a bit.

“We are both just getting back to grips with being in a rugby environment – obviously in a physio room you can make sure your arm is strong again, but you need to test it out on the pitch.”

Although Glasgow Warriors’ Tim Swinson was forced to leave the Scotland camp this week due to an injury which is likely to rule him out of the World Cup, the second row options to Cotter are still strong ahead of the warm-up matches that begin against Ireland in Dublin on August 15.

Jim Hamilton, the former Edinburgh man, is by far the most experienced with 61 caps and two World Cups under his belt, but Gray – who played in the big event in New Zealand in 2011 and has 44 caps – Rob Harley (15 caps), Jonny Gray (13 caps), Grant Gilchrist (eight caps) and Ben Toolis (one cap) are all pushing for places.

Gray admitted: “Well it should be tasty [the battle for selection]. It is not at the tasty stage yet, but maybe in a few weeks it will be.”

Gray was speaking at BT Murrayfield yesterday with a big smile on his face.

The reason for that is that his ‘team’ – the second youngest group in the Scotland training squad – had just won a game of ‘coneball’ out on the back pitches.

“Yes, we won the coneball competition, but nobody really knows the rules – it is all good fun and the squad is bonding well,” he explained. “It was tough out in Font Romeu [the French camp last week], but for my fitness it was great and, as quite a few of the boys have alluded to recently, it helped to bring the group closer together.

“After the operation I had, I am feeling good, pretty tired, but that is only because it has been a tough couple of weeks in the Scotland camp. I was out for twelve weeks with the injury and managed to get involved with Castres for the last league game of the season, which was good. That gave me a bit of confidence and it was great that we managed to stay up [in the Top 14] in the end.

“When I got back into Scotland camp I was not too far away from where I wanted to be fitness wise and it has been good to get the last couple of weeks under my belt.”

Gray is keen to put Scotland’s poor World Cup campaign in New Zealand in 2011 to the back of his mind for now.

“The last World Cup ultimately was very disappointing and we want to rectify things – I just want to do everything I can to be as good as I can be going forward.”