The post World Cup period is always tense for clubs as this is the time that richer clubs like Toulon and Castres start poaching stars from their poorer rivals. However, Scottish club rugby received a huge 6 ft 7inch boost in the form of Jonny Gray this week because the Glaswegian lock has signed a contract committing himself to Glasgow Warriors until 2018 as well as being awarded the Warriors’ captaincy.
Fans and coaches alike are both rejoicing and sighing with relief because losing Gray would have been disastrous for the club. This is simply because the Herculean lock is one of the most talented individuals in Scotland’s young generation of players. For example, at just 21 years of age he has been ranked 79th in the 100 greatest Rugby players at the 2015 World cup.
Even without these accolades, Gray is the epitome of the new breed of second row – an old school forward with a back like vitality. For instance, his work rate on the pitch is sublime – he was both the World Cup’s and 2014 Six Nations’ most prolific tackler out of all nations and all players. Gray is what every second row should be and more. He is the silent work horse of the pack, always popping up around the breakdown, getting stuck into mauls, winning lineouts and making the hard yards. He is also dangerous because he has the added athleticism and emerging dynamism which allows him to charge down the wing if required. For instance in the 23rd minute of the 2014 Argentina game, Gray was in the Scottish defensive line when he capitalised on an Argentinian mistake, saw a tiny gap and sprinted over the try line from 22 metres. This combination of forward skill and back athleticism is a potent combination rarely found in a lock, especially in one as big or as young as Gray.
It’s not just Gray’s talent that has seen him promoted to captain over more experienced players like Josh Strauss – it’s also his hard work ethic and outstanding leadership. Warriors coach Gregor Townsend said that “Jonny has shown leadership qualities right back to when he was 18 and in the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy” and adds that Gray is “someone who seeks out information and relishes taking on challenges.”
This is certainly true because last season Gray had the unenviable task of captaining the club against Connacht at The Sports Ground. Facing Connacht – a team full of huge and experienced Irish internationals at home – would be a difficult feat for Greig Laidlaw let alone Jonny Gray. Even so, Gray and the team came away from Ireland with a win which set them on the path to the Guinness PRO12 trophy.
Glasgow lost Jonny’s brother Richie, and other star players to wealthier rivals. Gray’s extension heralds an increased investment in club rugby from the SRFU. Without adequate funding from the SRFU, it was almost certain that the younger Gray would have left his Scottish club for a French one. Furthermore, up and coming star Finn Russell was also signed by Glasgow last week. The extension of these two players means that the SRFU are actually starting to invest in Scottish club rugby. This sort of monetary investment into Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh means being able to keep Scottish born and bred talent, and by keeping their home-grown stars, teams will have the potential to pull in bigger crowds.
Jonny Gray is the second row of the future, and it would not be surprising if he becomes the Scottish Paul O’Connell, something that would include the Lions captaincy. However, one thing is for sure, the rugby world is hotter for this Mr. Gray than Anastasia ever was for hers.