Barclay eager to impress Townsend with storming display against Russia
John Barclay found himself relegated to Scotland’s second-string after his Ireland horror show but hopes a stormer in Shizuoka could seal a return to Gregor Townsend’s top team for Sunday’s crucial World Cup showdown with Japan.
The Edinburgh flanker started the tournament as the Dark Blues’ first choice openside.
But he paid for a sloppy display in Scotland’s dismal Pool A opener against the Irish with his place as he, and Ryan Wilson, were dropped for the clash with Samoa.
With Hamish Watson also ruled out injured, that opened the door for Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury and Blade Thomson to form a new-look back three against the Pacific Islanders and they took their chance with a display brimming with energy during the 34-0 drubbing.
Townsend’s men now face the gruelling prospect of facing both Russia and the Brave Blossoms just four days apart and must take at least nine points to have any chance of reaching the last eight.
But while the majority of Townsend’s top stars have been wrapped up in cotton wool ahead of the do-or-die clash with the hosts this weekend, Barclay will be roughing it up against Russians at the Ecopa Stadium.
It was a game he likely thought he would play no part in just three weeks ago but he is refusing to sulk and is ready to use the opportunity to prove he should still be one of the leaders in Townsend’s pack.
He said: “The big game for me is Russia, I have no idea what the team will be for Japan.
“I guess the reality is that the guys who are playing against Russia will be on the outskirts for the next game.
“It doesn’t take much to work out. But, equally, for the guys who are playing against Russia there is huge motivation to get involved for that Japan match.
“The reality is there will need to be a big performance and I need to prove I deserve to be involved against Japan.
“I have been disappointed, I have been frustrated since the Ireland game. The whole game was frustrating, but it’s part of being a rugby player.
“It’s the first time I have been left out of the squad since I returned to the fold. It’s been tough, but know all my focus is on Russia.”
The emergence of young guns like Ritchie and Bradbury might eventually spell bad news for the 33-year-old Barclay and his Test place. But there was no grudging in his admiration for how they showed up against Samoa.
“They were rubbish,” he said with a grin before correcting himself. “They were good, weren’t they? I’ve played enough with Maggie and Jamie at Edinburgh so I know the quality they have, and I know enough about Blade from speaking to the boys at Scarlets about the qualities he has.
“It’s one of those when you knew there would a reaction. I didn’t doubt the back row would play well, it was a physical game and the boys played really well I thought.”
It took Scotland until the 74th minute to clinch their bonus point against Samoa and Barclay believes patience will be a vital commodity on Wednesday if they are to secure the vital extras again.
He said: “I’ve played enough of these games where if you try to score four tries before you score one you can get in a bit of trouble. We’re not thinking about that early on.
“If it gets to 70 minutes and we’ve scored one that might become the case but we have to back ourselves and not try to score the fourth before we’ve scored the third.
“Back our skills, grind them down, we believe our fitness will be superior to theirs.
“We’ll back ourselves and we’re confident, but we’ve seen the trouble they’ve given every team they’ve played, they’re physical, hard at the breakdown, they make things niggly and awkward.
“When they have the ball they’re abrasive and direct, and they’re hard. We’re under no illusions about it.”