RUMOURS of Richie Gray’s international demise have been as plentiful as they have been premature.

A stalwart of the national team for several years after making his Test debut in 2010, the Glasgow lock has been no more than a marginal figure since Gregor Townsend took over as head coach five years ago.

That was partly through Gray’s own choice – he sat out the 2019 Rugby World Cup for family reasons and this time last year made himself unavailable for the Autumn Nations Series after deciding his body needed a rest – and partly because of the increased competition for places, not least from his younger brother, Jonny.

Now, though, the 33-year-old is in his best form for five years. Townsend said as much when naming Gray in his squad for this autumn’s Tests, and the player himself agrees with that verdict.

As a result, a year-and-a-half after his last appearance off the bench for Scotland, Gray is set to add to his tally of 67 caps by taking to the field against Fiji on Saturday.

And, with Scott Cummings and Sam Skinner ruled out of the Series, it is more probable that he will also be involved against the All Blacks and Argentina over the following two weekends.

After that, the Six Nations Championship will be just around the corner, and then it will not be too long before the 2023 World Cup, to be held in France, where Gray spent seven years playing for Castres and Toulouse.

This week, of course, the focus is firmly on the meeting with the Fijians at BT Murrayfield. The visitors are tricky opponents, especially if you get lured into playing their type of game, something Gray recalls happening to himself when he played against them in Fiji in 2012.

“I remember Andy Robinson said, ‘Let’s not get carried away in a sevens match’,” he recalled, referring to the then Scotland coach. “I think with my first touch I off-loaded the ball and they intercepted. I won’t be doing that at the weekend.”

Scotland won that match 37-25 and will be strong favourites to prevail by a larger margin on Saturday. To do so, they will have to impose their structure on the Fijians, not only in the set-piece where Gray excels, but also in the loose.

The latter is an aspect of his game which he has been concentrating on a lot recently, and which partially explains Townsend’s verdict on his form. Asked if he would agree with the head coach’s opinion, Gray said: “I would. I was happy with where I got to last year, and this year I have been trying to link up in attack between forwards and backs and get on the ball a bit more. I think I can still push forward. But I’m happy with where I’m at.

“Rugby players go on a bit longer these days. Physically I feel well and mentally I feel good and I’m playing some good rugby, so everything has just come together. It’s not about it’s the last waltz or anything like that. It’s just about coming in and playing some rugby.”

Of course, if you are to play some rugby to the best of your ability you have to be in the right frame of mind and the right shape physically too. In 2019 Gray decided that family came first, while last year he was aware that, after ankle surgery in the summer and a gruelling run of games with Glasgow, he would be unable to give his best in a Scotland jersey.

“At the time of the 2019 World Cup I had the birth of my first child and a whole host of injuries,” he said. “The timing just wasn’t right.

“But physically I feel great and mentally I’m in a really good place as well. I’m happy with the rugby I’ve been playing so I want to come in and have a go at it.”

Having enjoyed life in France both on and off the field, Gray was asked if the fact that next year’s World Cup is there made him specially keen on being involved.

“It’s certainly an ambition [to play in it],” he said. “A World Cup is a World Cup. If you get the chance to go to a World Cup it is a huge honour. It doesn’t really matter where it is.”

Gray will turn 34 just a few weeks before the World Cup comes around, so might he have pencilled that in as a possible retirement date?

After all, the tournament is often viewed by players as a suitable time to call a halt to their international careers.

However, perhaps because he has seen his professional obituary printed prematurely so often, he is in no rush to publish his own version.

“I’m not talking about finishing,” he insisted.