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My Life in rugby: Chris Gray – former Edinburgh Academicals, Nottingham and Scotland lock

Chris GrayI can’t put a price on the amount of fun and entertainment I had during my career. Whether it was playing for Edinburgh Accies 5ths or Scotland at the 1991 World Cup, I loved every minute.

I very nearly cried off before the World Cup because my wife was due to give birth during the tournament. She persuaded me to play and luckily the timing was just right – our first born arrived in between the semi-final loss to England and the third place play-off against the All Blacks in Cardiff. Emotionally that was some rollercoaster!

We went into the World Cup with near enough the same team that had won the Grand Slam and toured New Zealand the year before. We were all happy and comfortable in each other’s company and with three home games – and very good local support behind us – we made it through to a last four meeting with England. Sadly, one duff kick from Gavin Hastings prevented us making the final.

The Grand Slam had been a dream come true. We hadn’t played that well throughout, certainly not until the blond wing forward for France, Alain Carminati, stamped on JJ’s (John Jeffrey) head and was sent off. We won 21-0 and saw off Wales in Cardiff next. Suddenly it dawned on us that the whole shooting match was there for the taking.

We scrummaged longer and harder than at any time in our lives in the build-up and were confident we could deal with anything the big English pack threw at us.

The famous slow march before kick-off nearly didn’t happen. We were all debating it on the bus coming back from training on the Friday and JJ reminded us that it didn’t work when Finlay Calder led the Lions out for the first Test against Australia in ’89. He was over-ruled and we decided to come out in number order. All went to plan until it was my turn at No.4. A hyped-up Scott Hastings couldn’t wait any longer and jumped the queue. Typical!

That day played right into our hands because we’d been billed in the Press as classic Scottish underdogs who would be beaten by 20-30 points. Of course it never turned out that way, and Will Carling was gracious enough to admit recently England had been beaten by the better team, fair and square.

I’ll never forget my debut against Wales. I enjoyed the whole experience – apart from getting whacked in the ribs by Phil Davies every time I jumped. And touring New Zealand was memorable: we played hard on and off the field. Kenny Milne was in the printing game and every time we threw a party he used to send out gold-embossed envelopes with personal invitations.

We possibly should have beaten New Zealand in the second Test in Auckland. A questionable decision from referee Derek Bevan led to them kicking a penalty and we lost 21-18. Our paths crossed a few months later when Nottingham played at Neath. They were consistently lying on the wrong side and I got penalised when I tried to something about it. I said: “No need to go easy on them just because they play in all black!” Needless to say I got a withering look.

I was proud to captain Nottingham. I’d moved there in the mid-Eighties to take up a dentist’s job. We had a number of England internationals like Brian Moore, Rob Andrew, Chris Oti, Gary Rees and Simon Hodgkinson and were regulars in the higher reaches of the Courage League First Division.

We were also a lick of paint away from the Pilkington Cup final. ‘Hodge’, who’d just become England’s record Five Nations scorer, hit the upright at the Stoop and Harlequins beat us in extra-time. Missed kicks and semi-finals, eh?

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