Breakdown specialist Richie Gray is relishing the prospect of working with the world-class talents in the Fiji squad, after joining Vern Cotter’s backroom staff.
Gray will work on a short-term basis, joining Cotter’s staff for the [to-be-confirmed] Northern Hemisphere eight-nations tournament, that pits the Flying Fijians against England, Wales and Ireland, as well as Japan.
And despite that daunting schedule, Gray – who was Skills and Contact Coach under Cotter at Montpellier – is relishing the challenge. “I left Montpellier at the end of June and there was always a chance of joining Vern again with Fiji, but there were a couple of clubs around as well.
“International rugby suits me because I’ve got the business as well, and I’ve always fancied a crack with Fiji so I’m looking forward to working with this group.”
Richie Gray joins Fiji coaching staff
On their Autumn schedule, he added: “Everything is a challenge, so you may as well test yourself against the best in the world.
“It’ll be a tough ask, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
His appointment to Cotter’s backroom staff was confirmed days before Scotland unveiled a new addition to their own new staff member, with John Dalziel – another man from the Borders – joining as Forwards Coach.
Many have questioned why Gray’s undoubted talents have been ignored by Scottish Rugby since he departed along with Cotter at the end of the 2017 Six Nations. “I’ve never heard from the Scottish Rugby Union after I left with Vern after our last game against Italy in 2017 – they’ve got to come and ask you. Sometimes in this life, you’ve got to plough your own furrow,” he added.
Cotter’s contract wasn’t renewed in 2017, leading to a promotion for Gregor Townsend to the national team top job after he’d led Glasgow Warriors to PRO12 title success in 2015.
And Gray looked back on his time working with the Scotland squad. “When I was involved with Scotland, we were looking forward to taking them to the  World Cup and that didn’t happen, but these things happen in professional sport,” he said.
He is positive about the future for Townsend’s squad and believes they will have learned from their disappointing World Cup display in Japan last year.
Gray positive despite no contact from Scottish Rugby
“I think Gregor has got a really good group there – I said when I left I’d be excited to see how the likes of Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury, and Finn [Russell] came on. “I think if there’s ever a time for Scotland to do something, it’s going to be over the next couple of seasons, so it’ll be interesting to see how things go.
“My first priority is to get Fiji ready to compete.”
Gray is one of the world’s leading breakdown coaches, having devised his own training equipment, the focus of his business, GSI Performance. He’ll bring a wealth of experience to Cotter’s backroom staff, having spent three years working with the Blitzbokke and the Springboks, as well as his native Scotland for two seasons.
Gray’s expertise around the collision extends to more than rugby, though. He created the Gray Tackle System, equipment which is currently being used in the NFL, and he also worked as a consultant for the Miami Dolphins.
Innovated by GSI Performance powered by @RiddellSports #TheTackle #SkillAcquisition #Technique #Football @USAFootballMT @CoachKGrabowski @CoachWash56 @CoachGregoryUW @FBCoachDBrown @CoachSWallace @CoachDiG @tsummerfieldMT @Neville_Hewitt @NFL 🏈 pic.twitter.com/cmHgm30k3T
— Richie Gray (@RichieGrayGSI) July 24, 2020
Now, though, he’s looking forward to getting stuck in on the training field with the likes of Semi Radradra, Leone Nakarawa, and Josua Tuisova (see image further up article).
“They are a talented group. I’ve been lucky to coach some of the best players in the world – the great thing for me is that I’ve not worked with many of these guys before, so I’m looking forward to that.”
“Everyone has strengths and weaknesses – there’s obviously things they are really good at already but there are things they can get better at, too. From my point of view, we can definitely make some improvements around the contact and the breakdown.”
The Gala man is initially only involved for the extended Autumn window, but he’s open to staying on longer should his long-time colleague Cotter be interested.
“We’ll sit down after November and discuss it”.
Fiji backroom role short term (for now)
“Nobody really knows what’s going to go on – if there was another spike, you don’t even know that the November Tests will go ahead – so that’s one of the main reasons it’s a short-term deal at the moment.”
And he’s looking forward to reuniting with Cotter. “I’ve worked with Vern for a while now – we did two years with Scotland and now three at Montpellier, so we know each other well, and it’s the one area [of the world] that I’ve not been [to coach] and it’s a massive rugby culture in the Pacific Islands so I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in.”
Cotter’s backroom set-up includes former All Blacks centre Daryl Gibson, Crusaders forwards coach Jason Ryan, and ex-International Test referee Glen Jackson. Gray gave Last Word on Rugby his thoughts on that trio.
“Vern is always pretty astute in bringing in different types of people together, focusing on where we want to take this Fijian group.”
“I hear Glen is doing great things in the Bay of Plenty and I think that’s a really interesting appointment. He’s just retired, and he’s a rugby man, which is fantastic. I’ve been involved with the World Rugby breakdown group for the past six months to look at the way the ruck should be interpreted, so I’m delighted to get back coaching again.”
The proposed Northern hemisphere eight-team tournament is scheduled to begin after November 14, featuring the Fijian team, Japan and all Six Nations partners.
“Main photo credit”
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