John Barclay spurred on by good memories

AS THE Scotland squad get down to the serious business of preparing for the first test in Tucaman on Saturday, one player is probably happier than most to be back in Buenos Aires.

• John Barclay has been almost unstoppable since cementing his Scotland place during the 2008 tour of Argentina, but a fear of being dropped ensures he never rests on his laurels. Picture: SNS Group

It was in the Argentine capital two years ago that John Barclay announced his arrival on the international scene.

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Admittedly he had already earned a handful of caps after making his debut against the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup but, after being overlooked by then Scotland coach Frank Hadden for the opening international in Rosario, Barclay bounced back with a stunning performance in Buenos Aires to help Scotland seal a memorable win.

"The first team was announced ten days before the Test, even before we had left Scotland, so I knew that I was going on tour but I might not even get to play any rugby. It was a bit frustrating," says the Scotland flanker.

"The second Test was one of the most enjoyable games I've played for Scotland. Everything just went right for us, we played some great stuff and there was never any question in my mind that we would win. We were up by 19 points at one point and I remember thinking that, the way we were playing, there was no way we could lose."

It would be nice to report that the Glasgow flanker has never looked back since that performance but, while he has won a stack of caps, even the man voted into most pundits' Six Nations Team of the Tournament found that he wasn't undroppable. Hadden dispensed with his services for the last match in the 2009 campaign against England, with Northampton's Scott Gray taking his No7 shirt.

If that was an odd decision – in fairness Gray was playing well for his club although he has since been linked with the Melbourne Storm – Barclay suffered another set back last November when Andy Robinson "rested" him for the Argentina match in favour of Alan MacDonald. The Scots were bested at the breakdown and lost to a late drop-goal; suffice to say it wasn't Robinson's smartest selection in his short Scotland career and it's not a mistake that the coach will repeat this coming weekend.

"I felt quite annoyed because we'd beaten Australia the previous week," says Barclay with admirable restraint. "It was explained to me that it wasn't anything to do with my performance, it was all decided before- hand and the decision was made for sound reasoning so you just have to accept it. I was up in the coach's box for that Argentina game and it was a frustrating one. We created a lot of chances but we didn't finish them off. It was good to see things from the coach's perspective, to see what he was looking for.

"I always say that it's very hard to keep hold of a Scotland shirt once you've got it. There are so many good players about, especially in the back row. There is just an abundance of back row talent.

"I had a mixed year last year, getting dropped in the last game of the Six Nations, but this year has been an enjoyable year.

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"Obviously the results could have been a lot better but it's been the most enjoyable season I've had with the Scotland team. We beat Australia in the autumn, we beat Ireland away from home and while we should have won a few more than we did the way we were playing, the general atmosphere in camp, the positivity, it's just great to be a part of it."

Barclay now concedes he is in a far more comfortable place than he was two years ago, not exactly undroppable, but certainly one of the first names down on the team sheet after a stand-out season. Scotland will need him at his best if they are to have any hope of winning in Tucaman. Never mind the set-piece, this match will most likely be won or lost at the breakdown, although the back row will find life a lot easier if the front five can gain some sort of parity, and that won't be easy given the Pumas' kamikaze-like attitude to self-preservation.

"We were taught an important lesson about intensity in the first test two years ago," the flanker recalls.

"Our last test match was against Ireland and that was such a high that, in a way, it was almost good to get brought back down to earth by Japan last week.

"Argentina have a great forward pack, they have backs who will run at us, they are one of the best teams in the world so it will be a big challenge for our pack especially, scrum and lineout and at the contact area as well.

"But that is what you want, Argentina is a great place to play and a great place to win," says Barclay. And, after all, he should know.