Newcastle Falcons star on Six Nations success and playing through the Covid-19 pandemic
Newcastle Falcons player and Scotland international, Gary Graham, spoke to The Gazette about Six Nations success, dual nationality and the challenges facing his teammates during the coronavirus months.
He was one of a number of Falcons players who rallied together in April to help boost the reopening of South Shields family entertainment business, Dunes, as part of an initiative to support local traders after more than a year of operating under the pandemic.
Graham was part of the Scotland Six Nations team that pulled off historic wins against their bitter English rivals and has helped the Falcons remain afloat in the premiership after achieving instant promotion from the second tier of professional rugby.
Despite only having played a ‘cameo’ role in the Scottish national team’s historic Twickenham victory, he spoke of his excitement at the current direction of Scottish rugby - with eight Scots, the most in over three decades, making the cut for this year's Lions squad selection ahead of its 2021 South African tour.
"I know Scotland still finished fourth, but we’ve had two of our biggest wins – beating England and France away – for a long time," he said of this year’s Six Nations campaign.
"I was only a cameo, playing a small part in those victories – but it was still incredible. I wasn’t involved in the France game but I was in the England one.
"It had been something like 30 years since we’d last beaten them at Twickenham. So it was unbelievable to be part of that and I think it’s a good sign of where we’re headed now.”
Graham’s father, George Graham, was a Scotland international before him. Having spent most of his playing career in the border area – beginning his playing days at amateur sides, Carlisle and Gala – Gary initially trained with the English national team before gaining his first senior cap for Scotland in 2018.
He spoke of the pride following in his father’s footsteps brought him, having made his first appearance with his father watching on in the stands.
“I’ve always been a very proud Scotsman,” he told The Gazette.
"I know that might sound hard to believe, if you’ve tried to go for England. But some things you just have to try and give it a go and see where it ends up.
"It obviously led back to playing for Scotland and getting my first cap in front of my old man, my girlfriend and my family. I’ve always been very proud of my heritage and what my family have done, so that was an amazing feeling.”
The Newcastle number eight says he and his teammates have had a number of challenges to navigate during a ‘stop-start’ premiership season that kicked off in November, owing to schedule disruption brought on by the pandemic.
Having started the season strongly, the side went on to lose a string of matches with postponed games ‘definitely [having] had an impact’ on their return to the top flight.
"I can’t put my finger on anything specific but I do think the ‘stop-startedness’ of the schedule due to games being cancelled has definitely had an impact,” he also said.
“Not being able to string full games together week in week out has made things difficult. We played out first four games consecutively and won three of them, which obviously stood us in good stead.
"Then we got a game cancelled and another game cancelled, and then we got Covid ourselves. So I think that knocked our sense of momentum. And in this league it’s very hard to get that back – especially with the competition being as tight as it is.
"There’s really not much to separate the teams when you get to that mid-table area.”