HAVING spent the past two months effectively plying his trade in a shop window, John Barclay is preparing for emotion to catch up with him tonight in what could be his final game in front of a Scotstoun crowd.
The priority for the club and estimated 7,000-plus supporters that will pack into Scotstoun is a victory and with a bonus point that could pull them level with Leinster, should the Irishmen fail to score four tries away to Zebre. With one game left in a fortnight’s time another bonus-point win for Glasgow at Connacht and failure by Leinster to match it at home to the Ospreys would push the Warriors into at least second spot, with Ulster’s results determining the other side to claim the coveted home semi-final.
That remains a big ask, especially as if Glasgow beat Ospreys tonight the Welsh outfit would be out of the running to retain the title and so may not be quite as stiff a challenge in Dublin in two weeks’ time as a result.
But Barclay likes emotion. For all that he is a relatively quiet, laid-back figure, he has learned enough in his time in the game to put a high price on the value of extra motivation and when he runs out for his 150th Glasgow appearance tonight it will be running high.
“It’s quite weird to know that this could be my last home game,” he acknowledged. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, and if we win our last two we have a chance of getting into second or first [and returning to Scotstoun for a semi-final], but I’ve been more aware coming in recently that I’ll only be here for a few more weeks and then I’ll be off somewhere else.
“That’s an emotional charger now I guess. The emotional side of things is very important in rugby and especially at the latter stage of the season and in big games an emotional driver can sometimes give you that edge.
“Certainly, we didn’t have that last week against Scarlets. We didn’t have the physicality and intensity, which is more of a mindset thing, but it’s going to be an emotional couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Glasgow supporters being as passionate as they are, one expects Scotstoun to plug into that emotion pretty quickly tonight. The 26-year-old flanker has enjoyed nine years at the Warriors and while the club has opted to highlight Graeme Morrison, by having a badge stitched on to the jerseys to pay tribute to the longest-serving player, in his tenth year, and whose future is still unclear, his fellow Dollar Academy product is worthy of a similar send-off.
Barclay joined the club fresh out of school as a 17-year-old, touted by then Scotland coach Matt Williams as a Scotland captain of the future. Barclay had already overcome a serious hip problem that threatened to finish his career before it had begun and went on to become one of Scottish rugby’s most talented openside flankers in recent memory. But, like Morrison, he has been forced to display his innate determination too often in rehab rooms, recovering as best he could from serious joint injuries that at one time ended sporting careers.
Barclay was in the Scotland squad in November, playing in the defeats to South Africa and Tonga, but then suffered a hamstring injury and was out of the game until February. He knew by then that there was no new Glasgow contract offer coming his way so has been playing for Glasgow and potential suitors since.
There has been interest from several countries, and he is “99 per cent” towards finalising a move next week, but, for now, he is happy to be sharing with his best man Morrison the thrill of playing in front of the kind of feverish Glasgow crowd they dreamt of a decade ago.
“I’ve been here nine years, he’s been here ten, and he’s been the mainstay at the club,” said Barclay, “so you do feel an element of wanting to give him a good send-off and make it a good farewell.
“That’s not the most important thing at the moment, and Graeme would admit that, but I’m sure it will be a factor in a lot of guys’ thoughts – giving that little bit extra for someone that’s given so much to Glasgow.
“I’ve been lucky to be here for nine years. The timing of leaving is the most disappointing thing because Glasgow are doing so well, but that’s part of sport. Some guys move on after two or three years and some don’t even get that, so you have to count yourself lucky to spend nine years here, and to have helped take Glasgow from a struggling team to one that is now very competitive.”
And tonight brings Barclay another Test-match quality challenge: beating rising Welsh star Justin Tipuric to the breakdown contest, and keeping a flow to Glasgow’s attack that brings into the game the Warriors’ lethal back three of Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Sean Lamont, who returns to the flank in place of DTH van der Merwe.
Niko Matawalu and Duncan Weir return at half-back and Morrison and Alex Dunbar form a powerful centre pairing, while up front Ryan Grant and Rob Harley are back in the starting XV and an exciting bench line-up waits for its moment to make an impact.
Barclay acknowledged the size of the task in beating a proud Welsh side needing two wins to reach the play-offs, and hopes that the added emotion might just help.
“We know we played badly [against Scarlets], but it gave us a reminder of how much we want to be in the semis, and how hard we’ve worked to get here,” he added.
“We are not a team of massive superstars and the way we’ve got here is through hard work and sacrifice, and doing the little things that make a difference.
“Ospreys have been saying that they know how to beat us. We beat them down there so we know the way we’ve got to play, and whatever your own circumstances these are the games you want to play in, at home when both teams have a lot to play for.”
Glasgow: 15 S Hogg, 14 S Maitland, 13 A Dunbar, 12 G Morrison, 11 S Lamont, 10 D Weir, 9 N Matawalu; 1 R Grant, 2 P MacArthur, 3 M Low, 4 T Swinson, 5 A Kellock (c), 6 R Harley, 7 J Barclay, 8 J Strauss. Subs: 16 D Hall, 17 O Fainga’anuku, 18 E Kalman, 19 T Ryder, 20 R Wilson, 21 H Pyrgos, 22 P Horne, 23 DTH van der Merwe
Ospreys: 15 R Fussell 14 T Habberfield 13 T Isaacs 12 J Spratt 11 B John 10 D Biggar 9 K Fotuali’i; 1 D Jones 2 R Hibbard 3 A Jones 4 A Wyn Jones (c) 5 I Evans 6 J King 7 J Tipuric 8 J Bearman. Subs: 16 S Baldwin 17 M Thomas 18 C Griffiths 19 J Thomas 20 S Lewis 21 R Webb 22 M Morgan 23 R Jones