The experienced Scotland lock has learnt to enjoy the big occasion
Richie Gray has walked the walk but he’s not been talking the talk this week. The towering Scotland second-row is the only member of Gregor Townsend’s side to have been involved in his country’s two previous victories over Ireland.
Scotland have not won a clash between the two sides since the 2017 Six Nations. They have lost all eight of their previous meetings, but Gray was in the side that prevailed at Murrayfield in 2013 and again six years ago.
But even on those occasions the winning margins were just five and four points. The easiest way for Scotland to make the quarter-finals requires an eight-point triumph at the Stade de France. Even putting that aside, the teams are so wildly different now that Glasgow Warriors lock Gray admits there’s little he can pass on to his team-mates.
Gray said: “It is totally different times. It’s a totally different team. So there’s not much you can draw on. The biggest thing we have touched on, as well as all the technical elements, is to embrace this week for what it is.
“It is a big opportunity and a lot of teams throw it around that pressure is a privilege so we are embracing that, trying to enjoy the week, being in each other’s company, enjoying where we are and knowing that it could be the last.”
But what does he recall from those two previous victories, that must seem like a distant memory to tartan-clad fans. “In 2013 Scotland weren’t in much form and we managed to pull off a victory against the odds. Ireland probably played better on the day but we managed to get the win because they didn’t take their chances.
“I thought we performed really well in 2017. I think there was a lot of chat about a late bus or whatever it was but I thought we came out the gate really well. We were physical and abrasive and managed to build up a scoreline which was good enough to see us through to the end of the game.”
Gray is under no illusions about the difficulty of repeating the trick in the French capital. Ireland are on a 16-game unbeaten run which has seen Andy Farrell’s side cement themselves as world No 1. There are no obvious weaknesses. So what will it take to dethrone them?
“We just have to play as well as we’ve ever done, it’s as simple as that. We need to go out and be physical and abrasive but play to our DNA as well and hopefully we can put in the performance of the tournament and hopefully we can get the win.”
Gray revealed there had been a nice edge to training, sensing a steely determination within the squad to upset the apple cart and prove that people have been wrong to write off their chances.
Both sides struggled against South Africa’s imperious lineout defence but Gray will be central to Scotland’s hopes of providing a platform for talismanic fly-half Finn Russell and their exciting outside backs to deliver the points needed to progress to the knockout stage for the first time since 2015.
Richie Gray on Peter O’Mahony’s 100th cap
A key opponent in that area will be Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony, who will win his 100th cap, someone Gray has kept tabs on since the Munsterman “belted” him in an U20s international back in 2009.
He said: “I first played against Peter back at U20s in McDiarmid Park, so I’ve had a good few battles with him. I remember because he ran around the corner and he belted me! I remember looking around thinking ‘that was a decent hit’ and I remember it being him. And we’ve had a few tussles since.
“There’s definitely a respect.But I remember that was the first time and back then, I knew he would go on to have a long and decent career.
“He’s a really abrasive character, gives it his all and I’m sure it will be the same this weekend. He’s a very good lineout operator. Very clever, very athletic.”