Richie Gray grows in stature ahead of tall order for the Scots

Demolition of Italy will count for nothing unless huge second-rower can get to grips with Irish

Richie Gray walks into the Davies and Ireland Suite at Murrayfield and prepares to take questions from a standing position. Thankfully, he is persuaded to lever his huge frame into a seat. When your subject happens to be from the land of the giants, stretching up with a tape recorder in hand can be something of an ordeal.

It is two years now since the second-rower with the distinctive bottle-blond mop started to stand out on the Six Nations stage. In France's 34-21 winning start to the 2011 championship, Gray was as towering a feature of the Parisian landscape as Gustav Eiffel's landmark construction across town from Stade de France, his all-action performance eclipsing even those of the home players.

If Gray was not pumping the pistons of his long legs to burst through tackles, as he did when he cleared a path through French bodies to pave the way for the first of Scotland's three tries, he was making use of them to run down Gallic fliers. Yoann Huget and Aurélien Rougerie were both hauled down in their tracks. In his first start for his country in a Six Nations contest, the 21-year-old was ubiquitous and hugely influential – more like Red Rum on Aintree's home straight than "Bambi on ice".

It was the latter description that Jeremy Guscott chose to make in a pre-championship appraisal of Gray. The celebrated Prince of Centres also dismissed the lanky lock as "too slow and cumbersome" to make an impact in the Six Nations. In doing so, he unwittingly provided rich motivational fodder that would have been greatly appreciated by his former Bath colleague, Andy Robinson, the Scotland head coach who gave the coltish Gray three tastes of international action off the bench in the 2010 Six Nations before granting him three starting berths in the autumn that year.

His performance against France was hailed as "a coming-of-age display" and the Gallic press drooled over a new blond bombshell of the oval-balled game, a Jean-Pierre Rives on stilts.

Two years on, much water has flowed under the bridges of the Seine and the Forth. Guscott has long since eaten humble pie, swiftly apologising in print for his hasty appraisal. Robinson has gone back to the English West Country. Scott Johnson is in interim charge of the Scots. And, two games into the 2013 Six Nations, people are still sizing up Gray, now 23, whose cap haul will reach 30 when he lines up to face Ireland at Murrayfield this afternoon.

Two years ago, the exact height of the Rutherglen-born player was the subject of much speculation, being reported as anything from 6ft 8in to 6ft 10in. It has now been established, for the sake of the official RBS Six Nations stats, as the latter, which makes Gray the joint second-tallest man to play for Scotland – alongside the 6ft 10in John Frame but behind the 7ft 1in Richard Metcalfe.

It has not been easy for Gray to build on his reputation as a bright young thing in a Scotland side that has spent most of the past two years on the back foot losing – ditto on the club front this season, since moving from Edinburgh to Sale. He has, nonetheless, been mentioned in dispatches as a Lions contender, though mention of the L-word makes little impression on him.

"The focus for me is playing well for Scotland and performing my role," he says, playing a straight bat. "Anything after that would be a bonus. But I'm not thinking about that."

You can be sure of that. Gray is not thinking beyond this afternoon's 80-minute shift in the west end of Edinburgh. Ireland might be shorn of several major players, but it will still be an exacting test for Scotland.

There has been much said and written about a new Caledonia since the clinical 34-10, four-try demolition of Italy a fortnight ago, but that will count for very little when it comes to getting to grips with the Irish at the nitty-gritty of the breakdown.

"Yeah, the breakdown will be huge," Gray acknowledges. "We've been working on it very hard in training this week. Ireland are certainly good at it. They've got the choke-and-hold style of defence, which counts a lot at breakdowns, so we'll have to work hard in that area. It's going to be very tough. We'll have to be there pretty quick."

Patently, the Caledonian eye has not been taken off the basics in the wake of an impressive win against Italy that showcased the attacking talents of their dynamic back three, Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Tim Visser. Johnson and Dean Ryan, the interim forwards coach, have made sure of that.

"We have taken huge confidence from the win against Italy," admits Gray. "We have shown our ability to score tries. But as a group we are staying grounded and not getting carried away.

"Obviously spirits are high in the camp. Everyone is buzzing. But we're focused on the task at hand.

"Ireland will be hurting from their loss to England. I think they will be coming to Murrayfield with a point to prove.

"They're a dangerous side," he adds. "They've got players across the board who can hurt you. We're not scared of them – we're not scared of any team – but we know it's going to be a tough challenge."

Ryan plays down expectations

Scotland have no right to expect a second Six Nations victory in as many games when they take on Ireland today, claims their forwards coach, Dean Ryan.

This month's 34-10 win over the Azzurri has raised anticipation among supporters that the Scots can mount a serious title challenge.

But Ryan, brought in to partner interim head coach, Scott Johnson, following the resignation of Andy Robinson, insists their first Championship success in two years means little when held up against the nation's previously shabby record.

Before beating Italy, Scotland had lost four matches in a row.

"We have won a game against Italy," he says. "Suddenly we are this attacking side with Lions contenders. But we are not. We have got to understand that."

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable