Four days after branding his side’s performance at Twickenham “useless”, Scotland captain John Barclay faced the media again yesterday and promised “a very positive reaction come the weekend”.
The Scots wrap up their Six Nations campaign against Italy at BT Murrayfield on Saturday lunchtime aiming to shake off the crushing disappointment of that 61-21 Calcutta Cup hiding and look to achieve as high a finish in the final standings as possible.
Barclay, who will start as skipper for the third time following Greig Laidlaw’s injury, admitted the scale of the loss to England had blindsided the squad.
“I don’t think anyone saw that game coming at the weekend,” he said. “We reviewed it and went over it. You can’t really gloss over what went wrong. I certainly believe we’ve been on the right path and right trend for a while now.
“But we can still finish with three wins, still finish second in the table – which we’ve never done before [in the Six Nations]. What happened was a bump in the road – albeit a fairly big bump.”
The Scarlets flanker revealed there had been an honest review process in the wake of the game and added: “You have to be a man, take it on the chin, take your medicine and move on.
“I’m confident there will be a very positive reaction come the weekend.
“We realise we’ve got to right a few wrongs. We’ve had a lot of great support from the fans and, if we win three out of five, we can finish quite well in the Championship. If we do that, we move away from the England game.”
At this stage of the tournament there are physical scars, as well as the psychological ones sustained from such a brutal beating by the team’s oldest rivals, to patch up, but Barclay is confident that the Scots will do the preparation required to see off the Italians.
“The guys are pretty dusted up,” he said. “It’s the nature of the beast that, when you get to game five, you’ll have a lot of boys bashed up in the Championship. But it’s not hard to get ready, not hard to lift yourself.
“We’ve put more emphasis on getting a bit of clarity with the guys and making sure we’re ready to go at the weekend.
“We can’t – and we don’t need to – reinvent the wheel in the space of a week. We just made a lot of uncharacteristic errors at the weekend. You’re just gutted when you lose. The manner of it was very hard to take.”
Having done so much to lift the mood of the Scottish rugby public with those wins over Ireland and Wales, Barclay admitted it was important to end an international season which has contained so many encouraging signs on a positive note.
He said: “We’ve got a very good support and it’s been fantastic for the guys to see the response we’ve had from the public over this Championship.
“You do want to represent the country as best you can and make the nation proud. That’s what we had been doing, so that made the weekend [at Twickenham] hard.
“But you can’t feel sorry for yourself. You have to draw a line under it, learn from it certainly but be ready to move on, go out there and be ready for one more big game to end the Championship.
“I can’t really speak for every player but some people mope about, others find it easier to bounce back. Certainly we trained well today and didn’t see any drawing back – it was all about looking forward. We can’t afford to look back now.”
It will, of course, be Vern Cotter’s last match in charge of Scotland but the Kiwi coach has been at pains to deflect any personal angle from this campaign and Barclay insisted it would remain the case until the final whistle blows on Saturday.
“That issue has never been mentioned, not once. I don’t think we will discuss it,” said the skipper.
“That’s probably the measure of the man, that he’s not interested in the accolades, not interested in people playing for him or the other coaches who are moving on.
“There is enough to play for without trying to win for someone else. Nobody needs that.”
Italy have shown flashes of their potential this season but, ultimately, been condemned to four fairly emphatic defeats so far. However, down the years they have always targeted Scotland as their most winnable game and seem to rise to that challenge.
While Scotland’s improvement, which has seen them rise to fifth in the world rankings, may have tempered Italian optimism, that heavy loss at Twickenham – where Italy fared much better than the Scots, thanks to their innovative tactics – might well mean that the Azzurri sense blood.
“They do some different things,” said Barclay. “They’ve used that open-play maul to good effect. There are triggers for it you can see on video.
“‘Italy will have their own tactics, they’ll have their own way of preparing. We’ve focused on how we perform better. Sergio Parisse is their talisman so it’s important we do stop him. A lot of their moves go through him or around him. But, if we play with accuracy and are a bit better tactically, we will be okay.”