THERE was a time when the late, great Sir Terry Wogan joked that he never turned right when boarding an aeroplane. It was business class or nothing. At some point this afternoon, Jonny Gray will again be afforded similar luxury and service as he wings his way back from a whistle-stop trip to South Africa.
Over the coming years, such journeys will become the norm for the players of Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh as they participate in the most distant of the PRO14’s away days, to the Cape, when they take on the newly added franchises, the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings.
Scotland star Gray left Glasgow on Thursday, spoke yesterday at the press launch in Cape Town, and comes home today, the ease of which has allayed any fears the Warriors forward may have had about the distances travelled.
“The flight and the travelling was quite easy,” Jonny admitted. “There was no jetlag at all, and to be honest the flight isn’t any longer than a coach trip to London.”
On the ground, Gray was impressed by the enthusiasm being shown amongst the locals. “We were really well received and there is a real buzz about the South African teams being involved in the Pro14, a real shot in the arm for all concerned.
“With Scarlets as the newlycrowned champions, with the expansion of the League improving the competition, these are exciting times for everyone involved in the competition.”
And Gray sampled a flavour of what to expect in this rugby-mad part of the world.
“We visited the local rugby museum. That’s when you see what rugby means out here and how embedded in the culture the game is. They really love their rugby, and for me, I’m looking forward to playing in Port Elizabeth, or in Bloemfontein, at altitude – although I may not be saying that afterwards.”
Next week, Gray and his Glasgow colleagues will meet up with new coach Dave Rennie who replaces Gregor Townsend at the helm at Scotstoun. And from the contact he has had this far with the Kiwi, Gray is well impressed.
“I think you only have to look at what he’s achieved with the Chiefs to see how good he is, and, what his standing is in the game currently. The fact he has his support and backroom team in place as well will be significant.
“He was over during the Six Nations, and has also spoken to most of us on the phone or on FaceTime. It has been good to here what his views are on the game and his ideas on how that game should be played are great. He has also recognised the culture we have at Glasgow.”
For the 23-year-old lock forward admitted that the disappointment of last term will act as a real spur for the Warriors players in this coming campaign.
“After a few seasons, where we were used to getting to semi-finals, and finals, and of course, winning the Pro12 title in 2015, last season when not making the play-offs was a disappointment to everyone and is something we want to put right this season.
“But we realise the kind of improvements we need to make, and the levels we have to achieve to make that happen again. “Now, all we and is to get back at it and get the new season underway.”