Glasgow backrower Rob Harley believes Warriors co-captain and Scotland lock Jonny Gray is redefining second-row play and conceded he would be shocked if the 22-year-old was not included in Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad.
Gray has been in outstanding form this season. He and brother Richie were at the heart of an astonishing defensive effort in the 23-22 defeat by Australia in November, making a cumulative 47 tackles without missing.
His club form has been equally impressive, captaining Glasgow to a 23-14 win away to French champions Racing 92 in Paris – topping both the tackling and carrying charts at the Stade des Alpes.
Harley said that Gray was internally recognised as the first player in Warriors history to make more than 100 tackles without missing, while the 28-cap lock has been an ever-present in Vern Cotter’s Scotland second-row since making his debut as a 19-year-old in 2013.
Despite immense competition in the second row – with former Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones, Ireland standouts Devin Toner and Iain Henderson, as well as England’s Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury all in contention – Harley would be staggered if Gray did not make the grade.
“In certain areas he has redefined standards of what it means to play. At Glasgow they keep track of consecutive tackles without a miss and he is the first player to get to triple figures,” the 18-cap forward said.
“He is young but he has the respect of the whole squad because of the talent he has and the performances he puts in, the consistency of his performances, it is like he never really has a bad game. There is a long way to go between now and the Lions tour with a lot of rugby to be played. It is tough to look beyond the next game but, having said that, I think with the way he’s played this season and the past couple of seasons, the ability he has shown – not just for Glasgow, but for Scotland – I’d be surprised if he didn’t get selected.
“There’s his tackling, but also his ball-carrying. He is so strong, he is one of the hardest workers around the park and he is running the lineout for Glasgow and for Scotland. There is just strengths everywhere.”
Glasgow and Edinburgh meet in the 1872 Cup on Boxing Day at Murrayfield and, with Harley likely to go up against Scotland back-row rivals Hamish Watson and Magnus Bradbury, as well as numerous Test players in each side and the six nations looming, it is a fixture loaded with significance.
With head coach Cotter making way for Townsend at the end of the season, Harley conceded Gray had all the credentials to skipper the national side if Townsend decided change was required.
Harley gave current captain Greig Laidlaw a glowing appraisal but conceded it was a matter of time before the clamour surrounding Gray reached fever pitch.
“Greig has done a great job as captain. He is not planning on going anywhere for the foreseeable future,” the 26-year-old said. “Jonny has been co-captaining Glasgow with Henry Pyrgos this year – they are good captains tactically, both lead from the front and chose the right options.
“I think Jonny is a candidate that a lot of people will look to. He is very qualified for the national captaincy. He is a really good player and a really good leader as well. It sometimes seems like he is never going to miss a tackle. He is an incredible talent and someone it is great to play alongside.”
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