Growing up, Gary Graham watched with pride as his dad George played for Scotland on 25 occasions. It was his dream to go one step further and three years ago, the back-row man achieved just that as he got his hands on the Calcutta Cup.  

It was the first time the Graham family had tasted success in the fixture, with George losing his only game against the Auld Enemy in 2002.  

Though Covid meant there were no fans at Twickenham, Graham junior insisted it was one of the proudest moments of his career.  

It could all have been so different too, had Gary not switched international allegiances having been called up – but not capped - by England for the 2018 Six Nations. 

READ MORE: Gary Graham welcomed back into fold after reverting to Scottish homeland

A week later, though, the then Newcastle star saw his rugby world crumble. Again starting from the bench, he was called into action early against Wales at Murrayfield, but what unfolded he now reflects was “one of the worst days of my career”.  

Graham replaced the stricken Blade Thomson early on and his initial impact on the game was positive with some trademark direct carrying. He helped Scotland amass a 17-3 lead, cut to 17-8 shortly before half-time, but still a decent advantage for the hosts.  

The back-row, now 31, nearly scored his first Test try with the second half eight minutes old, but obstruction by Scott Cummings saw referee Matt Carley chalk the score off.  

Scotland Rugby News:

Less than two minutes later, he dragged down a Welsh maul inside Scotland’s 22 – Liam Williams scored the visitors’ second try which probably spared Graham a spell in the sin-bin.  

Then on 53 minutes Scotland had Zander Fagerson sent off for a shoulder charge on Wyn Jones at a breakdown. Two minutes later, Graham was powerless to stop the big prop powering over to put the visitors in front.  

Gregor Townsend has seen enough and hooked Graham with Richie Gray sent on for the final 25 minutes.  

“It was my worst rugby memory to date. I was the sub that got subbed," he reflected.

“I’m now a tri-nations player. I was in an England squad, I’ve played for Scotland and on that day I was Wales’ best player.  

“It was horrendous. I’d knackered both my shoulders against England the week before but that’s not an excuse for the way I played. 

“I went high on Toby Faletau and got pinged for a high tackle, and I gave away another few, then Zander got sent off and that was that.” 

Graham said the walk back to the bench, and having to watch the remaining 25 minutes from the sidelines, was a lonely experience.  

READ MORE: Scots pull up short in Six Nations thriller

“I was embarrassed and ashamed of how badly I’d played. I was furious at myself. A few of the boys put their arms around me but I knew what I’d done. I knew I’d made a **** of myself.  

“I remember speaking to [Scotland forwards coach] John Dalziel at the hotel that night, and he said it wasn’t my fault.” 

Scotland let their lead slip as Louis Rees-Zammit sealed a 25-24 win for Wales with a stunning late individual score.  

It was the last time Graham played for his country.  

Despite the disappointment at how his time in international rugby ended, Graham does have fond memories of a fleeting Scotland career.  

“My first cap is still the proudest day of my career. My dad isn’t very emotional but when I came off he was crying, my mum was crying and so was my wife.  

Scotland Rugby News:

“I wanted to do a lot more in a Scotland shirt. My dad got 25 caps and throughout my entire life I wanted to surpass him. I’ll never achieve that now but I’m still so proud to have played for Scotland.” 

Now playing in the third tier of French rugby having left Newcastle Falcons last season, Graham admits his international career did not live up to his own expectations.  

“It was short-lived – probably all of about 30 minutes. I don’t class myself as an international player because I don’t think I deserve to.” 

Graham, who was one of Newcastle’s stand-out players at the time, was disappointed he didn’t get an opportunity to prove himself again at the top level.  

“I don’t want to sound bitter, but I don’t think I got enough opportunities. I thought I played well in my first couple of games against Italy and France, then I got dropped.  

“Gregor obviously coached Glasgow and I do think it’s easy for coaches when they’ve got those relationships with players.  

"I know there’s a few exiles playing in the Scotland team now but I do think it’s easier for them to pick someone they know. There’s politics to everything, though.” 

Three years on from being in the thick of the championship, Graham will be watching on from his new home about an hour’s drive from Toulouse.  

Graham initially signed for Carcassonne when they were in Pro D2, the second tier, but saw that agreement initially ripped up when they were relegated.  

Graham admitted he had no idea at the time there was a relegation clause in his contract.  

“I saw something from the owner in the media where he’d been asked about new contracts, and he’d said they’d all be void if they were relegated.  

“That caused a bit of a panic – I was on the phone to my agent at the time trying to find something else.  

“I had a few offers: Edinburgh were interested for a time but they went with someone else, and there was interest from Japan. That ‘interest’ is such a nonsense word in rugby though – it basically means nothing until there is an offer. It just means your name has come up in discussions.  

"Eventually Carcassonne came back in with another contract – but it was half of what they’d offered initially. 

“I’d tried to get a couple of medical joker contracts for during the World Cup, but that didn’t work out. When Carcassonne came back in, I decided it was either that or I thought I’d just stop rugby and get on the tools.

 “I’ve got bills to pay and a family to provide for. At the time we had a baby on the way as well so it was a bloody stressful time.” 

Scotland Rugby News:

Now settled and enjoying life in France, Graham is focused on helping the club - currently fourth in the table - back into Pro D2 at the first attempt this season. 

"This league is classically French. You hear about French teams not being good away from home, but it's true.

"I'm not sure we've lost a game at home but we're not as good away. If we can sort that, we'll be in the running at the end of the season."