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No Gray areas as lock demands better

Three days ago Richie Gray was regarded as the one Scot certain to tour this summer with the British & Irish Lions, and was even widely regarded as a favourite to be in the Test team's boiler room.

Stuart Hogg showed menace when on the ball
Stuart Hogg showed menace when on the ball

His brief, if blunt, account of how he and his Scotland team-mates failed to challenge their English opponents on Saturday in the match which kicked off their RBS 6 Nations Championship campaign – and on the day the Lions selection process got under way properly – hinted at an awareness that all that could change over the coming weeks.

Gray was slightly reticent when it came to his own contribution at Twickenham. "I won't think too much about my performance. I'm just disappointed at the moment," he said. "It's important for me to play well for this team and perform my role. I'm not thinking about the Lions."

However, the 23-year-old admitted to being impressed by Joe Launchbury, his opposite number on Saturday, who is two years his junior, and was more candid about Scotland's collective effort.

"We get up, we get close and then second half we simply didn't turn up. That's very disappointing," said Gray. "It's certainly exposed areas that we'll need to do a lot of work on. Now we've got three home games - we'll need a big performance against Italy [on Saturday]. I believe if we perform to the best of our ability we can get the win and build momentum from there."

Maybe so, but the Sale Sharks lock is playing for struggling teams with club and country compared to Leicester's Launchbury. In those circumstances it would be hard for anyone to impress a Lions management team that will be looking to select genuinely tough Test competitors.

"We needed to be a lot better in the contact area and we simply weren't," said Gray. "It is a lot of technical work and fair play to England they loaded it well but that is no excuse. We have been working hard on it – but on the day we did not deliver and that is very disappointing. There is no hiding from it. On this evidence we need to do a lot of work on it. It is the biggest thing to get your attacking game going and if you don't, you can't get that right.

"We have a dangerous back three, they worked tirelessly and they took their opportunities very well, we just let them down a bit. Next week is an opportunity for us to work on it, then go out and deliver. There is no hiding from things – we just have to deliver.

"There was a lack of line speed, they were getting some very good front-foot ball and were able to attack dangerously as a result, due to our lack of line speed and not dominating collisions. From a player's point of view it felt like an intense and physical game but we let ourselves down in the collisions."

Among the Scots, only Stuart Hogg, whose every touch of the ball carried menace, enhanced his case to be involved in the Lions tour, while Sean Maitland, the New Zealand-born winger who made a try-scoring debut, also put down a marker.

The latter described both the experience of putting his team ahead at Twickenham and the prospect of a first Test appearance at Murrayfield next week as "dreams come true" but the reality of being a Scotland internationalist was also brought home.

"It was really frustrating. We have some quality backs in that backline and we really wanted to show what we have got but we didn't get many opportunities," said Maitland. "Everyone will have their own opinion after the game. I think we just need to bring them to the collective and have a good, hard chat together, just look one another in the eye."

When they do so the Scotland squad should all seek to draw inspiration from the way the young Hogg, seen as a boy wonder last season, responded to criticism earlier this season. "I had a sticky patch just before Christmas and I had to pull the finger out," said the 20-year-old. "I looked at my game and it's all about maturity. I'm the youngest in the team but I need to have an old head."

Given his performance and those of some of his more experienced colleagues, that self-analysis seemed all the more telling on a day that looked, at times, like a meeting of men against boys.

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