Gray plots the fall of United Nations of his countrymen

ON ONE side there are South Africans trying to beat the Springboks and on the other, there is a proud Scotsman trying to unpick Scotland’s breakdown. And in between there are a handful of New Zealanders.

Welcome to the world of professional rugby in general, and this Saturday’s World Cup pool B clash between South Africa and Scotland at St James Park in particular.

Prop WP Nel, flank Josh Strauss and No8 David Denton, three South Africa-raised players, will turn out for Scotland. On SA’s side, Scottish-born Richie Gray, the Boks’ breakdown coach, is giving everything to ensure the Boks beat the land of his birth.

On the fringes, Scotland’s New Zealand coach Vern Cotter has been preparing his side for this encounter for months. This was always going to be the match in pool B and nothing has changed. The loser might be going home.

Cotter, to give himself the best chance, has not only imported Strauss and Nel, but also brought in New Zealand-born backrowers John Hardie and Blair Cowan and utility back, Sean Maitland.

As Bok flank Francois Louw said: “We don’t care what nationalities the opposition is made up of, they are a team of 15 guys against us. That’s all that matters.”

Gray has been the subject of some interest so close to the border of his home country. The likeable Scotsman slipped home to Galashiels for a night to visit his wife and children, who still live in the town, while he spends six months of the year in SA.

He popped down to his old rugby club and the BBC caught up with him and asked the former lock where his loyalties lay.

“Heyneke Meyer gave me the chance in 2013,” Gray replied.

“Heyneke said: ‘If you’re successful, it can change your and your family’s life. But if you fail, you’ll never coach again.’

“I’m a proud Scotsman and I’ve coached most of their players, but in the world of professionalism, I want my team to win. That’s it.”

SA might not have come up against the best sides on paper, but in Japan coach Eddie Jones and Cotter, they are up against two of the best in the business.

Cotter made his name as coach of French club Clermont, which he guided to the French Top 14 title for the first time in 98 years after three seasons of finishing second. Under Cotter, they were unbeaten at home for 74 consecutive games.

He has not been shy to include players not born in Scotland — with 10 “foreigners” in their ranks. They will be tactically astute and physically imposing. After losing to Japan, the Boks will need to be at their best to see Scotland and its kilted United Nations team off.

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