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Actions will speak louder than words for Scotland lock

AS the rugby gods clearly plundered the oversized parts bin when they were putting Richie Gray together, you would think they might have finished the job by furnishing him with a voice that would let him win a shouting contest with Brian Blessed.

Richie Gray is determined to turn things around for Scotland. Picture: SNS
Richie Gray is determined to turn things around for Scotland. Picture: SNS

Yet instead of granting Gray the foghorn bellow that his 6ft 9in, 20st frame deserves, they left him with a whisper that would have large-eared bats checking the batteries on their hearing aids.

It is an entertaining juxtaposition at any time but it led to bizarre scenes in the aftermath of his media briefing at Murrayfield yesterday as wizened hacks plugged themselves into their Dictaphones and scrunched their features into pained grimaces as they tried to figure out what on earth he had actually said.

The phrase that caused most problems was Gray's response to a question concerning his feelings about being dropped from the Scotland squad recently. "It was hard to take," he began, enunciating like Eliza Doolittle herself. "A day or two after, you bump your gums, disagree, and so on and so forth."

Well, that's what some of us thought he said. But then, with the volume knobs cranked right up to 11, it seemed he might have said "burn your guns." Brows furrowed, expressions became even more agonised, but multiple listening made things no clearer. It hardly helped that nobody had a clue as to what either expression might mean anyway.

There was a suggestion that "burning your guns" might be some sort of gym slang, but familiarity with that particular patois is not exactly common among sports hacks. Or maybe, after eight months at Castres, he had mastered French idiom and had helpfully translated it into English.

At least there was no ambiguity about Gray's satisfaction at being back in the national fold. The giant lock can come over as a tad diffident at times, but you could sense he was still bristling at the affront of being left out of the squad against England the weekend before last. Which is good news for Scotland, for after the pack's feeble performance 11 days ago it would certainly help their cause in Rome to have Gray with all guns - or even gums - blazing.

Gray, who was playing a club game in France when the Scots took on England, tried to record the Calcutta Cup match, but the technology failed him. There are many Scots who might consider that a blessing, but he was left in little doubt about the mood in the camp when he rejoined his Scotland colleagues earlier this week.

"From talking to a few guys and reading a few things, it did not go well to say the least," said the 24-year-old, who was the only Scot to figure in a Lions Test last year. "It was not great but coming back you can see the guys are upset.

"They have not been able to show what they can do on the pitch. There is a burning desire this week to go out and play a bit of rugby. We are facing a very difficult Italian side that will be very fired up. It is a huge game for us."

It may be that he is the kind of player who needs the occasional boot to the rear end to get the most from him. However, his return is not entirely good news for the Gray clan, as younger brother Jonny has lost his place on the replacements bench, with that slot going to Tim Swinson, the player the elder Gray has ousted from the starting line-up.

"It is mixed emotions in a sense," he admitted. "I am very happy to be back, but in saying that I am also disappointed for Jonny. He has done fantastically well this year. Yes, I am disappointed for him, but that is just the way it is."

It counts against Gray that he does not call the lineouts. The impression has been that he is happy enough galumphing about the park in his particular and highly-conspicuous style, but he is happy to leave the burden of decision-making to others.

However, with head coach Scott Johnson having stressed the importance of that part of the game - as well he might after Scotland's calamitous lineout efforts against England - Gray is starting to see the light. "I have said I will happily call the line-out," he admitted. "Let's just see what happens."

Selection for Rome reunites Gray with Jim Hamilton, which is as big a second-row combination as you will find in world rugby at the moment. All that heft and grunt might also come in useful in the scrum, another area where Scotland toiled against England - and one where Italy got the better of France last time out.

"I am very comfortable working with Jim, just as I am the rest of the second rows," said Gray, firmly. "Let's go out there and play a bit of rugby and show what we can do."

Whether he has been bumping his guns or burning his gums for the past few weeks, it is pretty clear that Gray wants to make a big noise again.

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