Jonny Gray earned his 50th cap for Scotland in the defeat to Wales at the weekend, but as the lock prepares to turn 25 on Thursday, there is “much more to come from him”.
Gray is one of the few Scots who have maintained full fitness and high standards throughout the Guinness Six Nations campaign - and the Glasgow Warriors’ second-row will have to be on top form again if Gregor Townsend’s men are to get anything from Twickenham this coming weekend against old foes England in their final outing.
Speaking of his talisman, Scotland head coach Townsend told TRU: “I’ve been really impressed with Jonny from the early days.
“He came through [into the Warriors’ set-up] and was already physical, already a really good tackler and very hard to tackle when he was an 18 or 19-year-old.
“Playing for Scotland, he has shown time after time that he can play at a high level - a consistent level. His effort is enormous in terms of his tackle numbers, his accuracy around the tackle and the number of rucks he clears.
“I do believe there is more to come from him. He’s someone who works very hard on all aspects of his game to improve.
Jonny made his full debut for Scotland at BT Murrayfield against South Africa in 2013.
However, his rugby journey began when he started playing at Calderglen High School in East Kilbride and at the Cambuslang club.
Whilst at Calderglen his rugby coach was Richard Maxton and he said: “When he was just coming into senior school, Jonny was perhaps a bit awkward because he was growing pretty quickly, but the one thing you saw from him straight away was his willingness to learn and work hard.
“When you get a group of schoolboys together it can be quite a noisy environment with a few loud voices, but Jonny was always one who listened well and wanted to improve.
“He had such a good demeanour about him and was a real team player and it is no surprise to me to see how well he has gone on to do.”
At Cambuslang, Jonny played there when he was aged six until he had one season in the senior first XV as a teenager.
After he left school, Jonny decided to move to Hamilton and in the 2011/12 season, he played in the first team there in the second-row - along with Maxton!
“It was quite strange at that stage playing in the same team as a pupil I had just taught, but it was also great for Hamilton to have him because he was a very good player,” Maxton said.
“He was still just a teenager, but he stepped into senior rugby with no bother at all and again was always keen to learn.”
Another team mate at the time David Gemmell said: “I played alongside him when he came into the side at 17 and the thing which struck me was his natural rugby ability once he took to the pitch - he had a real desire to play the game, really enjoying the challenges, both mental and physical, which it brought.
“On top of that, he is a genuinely likeable character, down to earth and respectful of the people around him - one of life’s good guys!”
Aged 17, and on the back of good showings for Hamilton, he played for Scotland under-20.
That summer, he went to New Zealand on the Macphail Scholarship and arrived at the Sydenham club in Christchurch via the Crusaders International High Performance Unit (IHPU).
“Our instructions from John Haggart from the IHPU when Johnny first arrived was to have him play in the Colts [under-21s] and see how he went,” Dale MacLeod from Sydenham said.
“After discussions with the IHPU and Jonny it was decided to give him a taste of Division One rugby during the pre-season program. Jonny not only proved he was up to playing this level but also showed he was up to the physical side as well.
“He went on to play the season with the Division One squad and the team went onto make the Grand Final that year after he had headed home.
“Jonny showed throughout the season that he was prepared to work very hard on his game both on and off the field - he was always looking to develop and grow as a player.
“He was the sort of player you knew was going to go much further in rugby if he continued to keep working hard. He showed all the attributes required to play at the next level and go on to represent his country.”
In 2012/13 Jonny, now a Glasgow Warriors apprentice, played for Currie under then head coach Ally Donaldson, while he was Scotland U20 captain.
Donaldson said of Jonny: “It was very clear early on that he was a special talent. He was only 18, but was mature both physically and mentally. His work rate was incredible making a huge amount of tackles and ball carries. His ball skills were also of a high standard allowing him to work well at lineout and kick-offs.
“Undoubtedly though, his biggest asset was his attitude, he was so determined to do well, to push himself, to be the best he could be. He was always wanting to learn more about rugby and how he could become a better player.”
Fast forward to 2019 and, as Townsend says, there is still more to come from this talented rugby player…