Richie Gray admits that he feared his Scotland career might be over after he turned down the opportunity to be part of the national team’s World Cup training camp last summer, in order to compete for a seat on the plane to Japan.  

Gray was based in France at the time, playing for Toulouse, and fighting his way back to full fitness following of an injury-ravaged two-year spell. With his wife having given birth to the couple’s first son just two weeks before the World Cup camp began, he decided that he was not in the right place physically or mentally to make the commitment required so politely declined Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend’s invitation to fly to Edinburgh for the summer. 

The 31-year-old, who has not worn the navy-blue jersey since March 2018, returned to the international fold this week, and is now in line to earn his 66th cap during the upcoming six match Autumn Test schedule, which will kick-off with a friendly against Georgia at Murrayfield on Friday night. 

“I wasn’t sure how things would be after the World Cup – you never know what is going to happen – fortunately I was able to get back to Glasgow Warriors and now I have been invited into this environment, so the chance is there again,” he said. “Now it is just about taking the opportunity – but, yeah, there was a period after the World Cup when I thought that it might have been all over.” 

Gray insists that there was no breach in his relationship with Townsend over the decision to put family ahead of rugby and also states that he didn’t have to pause for so much as a nano-second before he committed a re-joining the Scotland set-up this time. 

“There was no question,” he says. “Gregor sent me a text on Sunday night to say I was involved and I texted back straight away to say that I can’t wait to be a part of it. It is just great because I’m in a far better place than I was World Cup time. 

“To go away for the World Cup, that would have been a few months and requires a lot, and I just didn’t feel I was in the best place to offer that, and Gregor understood,” he adds. 

With competition for places keener than they have ever been in the Scotland engine-room, Gray argues that he is far from guaranteed game time this Autumn. Even with his brother Jonny and Sam Skinner both unavailable for the next two weekends because they are still on club duty with Exeter Chiefs, he will be up against Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings, Ben Toolis and Rob Harley in the battle for the Nos 4 and 5 jerseys next Friday. 

As a 2013 Lions tour veteran, who has played in all three of the top-flight professional leagues in Europe, Gray is comfortably the most experienced of the candidates – but knows that he will have to prove the he has still got what it takes physically to command a place in the match-day squad. 

“The game’s always evolving, it’s getting faster, there are more powerful players, and the intensity is always increasing,” he reflects. “If I look at the intensity from when I started to now, it’s night and day. So, I think it will be different. However, what I’m really pleased about is being involved in the Glasgow environment and then being involved in the Scotland environment. 

“There’s always lingering [injury] hassles! I think when you get to my age that’s just part and parcel, but I’m still here and still going strong” 

“It’s going to be hard. There are seven decent second-rows so there’s a lot of depth. It’s certainly the most depth I’ve seen in a Scotland squad and that’s only a good thing. 

“Every player wants to play international rugby. What I have left over? I’m not sure but I think I can offer something – that is why I am here. Who knows what will happen over the next couple of weeks – but I am enjoying my time here and will do what I can.” 

Before he finds out if he will be involved in the Georgia game, there is the small matter of watching little brother Jonny in action in this afternoon’s European Champions cup clash against Racing 92 in Bristol. The younger Gray sibling will be one of five Scots involved in the match, alongside clubmates Stuart Hogg, Skinner and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, while Finn Russell will line up at stand-off for the French side. 

“I am delighted the game is going ahead as it was maybe in a bit of doubt due to Covid a few weeks ago,” acknowledges big brother.  “Jonny went down there at the start of July and slotted in really well. It looks like he has been there for years. Now he is challenging for a European Cup and the following week he is going to be challenging for a Premiership title. It is going to be a very proud moment for us as a family.”