PERFORMING well in the RaboDirect PRO12 is the clear target of many players who wish they were in Italy this weekend, but beating Edinburgh convincingly is the aim of just one Scotland internationalist.
Flanker John Barclay was one of a handful of players who did not enjoy his best game in the autumn Test match against South Africa, but while lock Richie Gray has now managed to work his way back into the team Barclay continues to be left out in the cold and he is not happy. Chris Fusaro has taken the No 7 jersey that many believed a decade ago would belong to Barclay for many years, but in an exclusive interview with The Scotsman the Scarlets man makes it clear that he is not about to give up on it.
He has called on Scarlets fans to turn the new Parc y Scarlets ground into the same fortress Stradey Park was, when he visited with Glasgow, and his message has been taken well by a Scarlets faithful who now view Barclay as one of their own. It remains a puzzle why he is not seen in similar terms by Scott Johnson, the Scotland coach, particularly at a time when Ross Rennie is out of the frame and Kelly Brown not holding down a back row berth.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” said Barclay. “I had a chat with Scott the day after the South Africa game and I resolved to get back to the club and just work hard to prove to him that I could be the answer to the No 7 question again, but he hasn’t been in touch since.
“That’s fair enough because obviously I’ve not done enough to impress him yet, but one thing that irks me is the talk about how Scotland need to bring through a new generation, and younger players need their chance. I have nothing against Chris and I think he’s maturing into a cracking player, but I’m only 27, less than three years older than him.
“It was a tough game against South Africa, one of the best teams in the world right now, and I don’t think many of us shone. It wasn’t my best, but I don’t think it was bad enough to say my international days are behind me. I’ve been enjoying it at the Scarlets and I feel I’m playing as well now as I ever have, so while it doesn’t look like I’m going to get a shot in the Six Nations I will keep working hard, improving and playing well, hopefully, and see if I can get a call for the summer tour.
“It’s amazing how quickly things can change. I was speaking to Johnnie Beattie the other day and he was saying that two years ago he couldn’t get near a Scotland squad, and now he’s got the No 8 jersey back.”
It will be heartening for many Scottish supporters to hear that Barclay has not lost any of his appetite for the Test arena, seven caps short of the 50 mark, though that may be bad news for Edinburgh this afternoon. Alan Solomons has stuck with the side that started last week’s match away to Connacht, and suffered a narrow defeat at the Sportsground. The only changes are the promotion of ‘elite development’ front rows George Turner (hooker) and Ewan McQuillin (prop) to the bench for Scotland players Ross Ford and Geoff Cross.
So, that pitches Barclay up against one of the few familiar faces in the Edinburgh ranks, Roddy Grant, as Scarlets seek a double to follow the 22-9 win at Murrayfield in September, claimed even though Barclay was one of three Scarlets players yellow-carded.
“I have a lot of respect for Roddy,” he said. “He is a good player as well and I am a bit surprised not to see him involved with Scotland because I know how tough an opponent he is.
“But I’m looking forward to the game. Edinburgh are quite a different team to the one that we played at the start of the season. They obviously have been adding to their squad through the season and it is a very strong side which has claimed a few good wins, so we’re not taking them lightly at all.”
The Scarlets have Welsh internationalists Emyr Phillips and Samson Lee back, and England cap Olly Barkley makes his Scarlets debut in a back line that also features former Ayr stand-off – and one-time Scotland target – Frazier Climo on the wing. The Scarlets have won six of the last seven meetings with Edinburgh and not lost to the Scots at home since December, 2009.
As for whether Barclay’s mind may first wander to Rome, where Scotland kick off at the same time as his game does, the flanker added: “I am disappointed not to be there. I won’t pretend otherwise. But my focus is firmly on the Scarlets.
“I did see the comment in an English paper that Scotland should be ‘put on notice’ to be thrown out of the Six Nations, and that angered me because it’s nonsense, but I feel for the fans who head into the championship every year with the same quiet optimism the players do, and then suffer games like the last two.
“I wish them well, but my focus is on the Scarlets and helping us get up to the table and make sure at least of a top-six place by beating Edinburgh.”
SCARLETS: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Frazier Climo, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Phil John, 2 Emyr Phillips, 3 Samson Lee, 4 George Earle, 5 Johan Snyman, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 John Barclay, 8 Rob McCusker (capt). Subs: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Richard Kelly, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Gareth Maule, 23 Gareth Owen.
EDINBURGH: 15 Jack Cuthbert, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Carl Bezuidenhout, 9 Grayson Hart, 1 Wicus Blaauw, 2 James Hilterbrand, 3 Willem Nel, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 6 Mike Coman (capt), 7 Roddy Grant, 8 Cornell Du Preez. Subs: 16 George Turner, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Ewan McQuillin, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Tomas Leonardi, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Sam Beard, 23 Harry Leonard.
• Edinburgh Rugby face Scarlets at the Parc y Sarlets on Saturday 22 February (kick-off 2.30pm)
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