Interview: John Barclay on saying farewell to Scarlets

John Barclay may have spent eight years at Glasgow but if he was looking to spend some wistful moments of nostalgia it would be more likely that he would head for Firhill, Hughenden or the old training base at Whitecraigs.

John Barclay's move from Scarlets to Edinburgh in the summer will be a massive blow for the Welsh club. Picture: Getty Images

That’s where the bulk of the now Scotland captain’s time with the Warriors was spent, with Scotstoun only home for the last year before he embarked on an adventure to south Wales with Scarlets which saw him reinvigorate his career and earn a Pro12 winner’s medal last season.

Barclay will lead Scarlets to his old stomping ground tomorrow and, while acknowledging the resonance of the venue, is fully focused on ensuring the Guinness Pro14 semi-final is not his last match for the Welsh team before he returns to Scotland with Edinburgh next season.

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“I only played a season there [at Scotstoun] and it felt like the first time Glasgow had its own home, so I obviously felt a connection with that, and the growth of the club [since they moved there] has been incredible,” said the 31-year-old back-rower.

“I’ve not played there for a couple of years – I think the games we’ve played against them there have been during the Autumn international stuff – so I’ve not played on the new [4G] pitch.

“It is always nice to go home and see some of the old faces – I always look forward to going back to Glasgow.”

Barclay has already had one farewell occasion at Scotstoun and would like to keep it that way. Back in 2013 he made his final home appearance against Ospreys in what coincided with a personal milestone before he left for Wales the following season.

“It was my 150th game for Glasgow in my last game at Scotstoun, but we had a semi-final [away to Leinster] to come, so it didn’t feel like my last game.

“It was [centre] Graeme Morrison’s last game as well, obviously we are best mates so we ran out together – it was nice.

“I’ll be doing my utmost to make sure we get to another final, but you’ve got 23 guys on the other team doing exactly the same: that’s knockout rugby, that’s what makes it exciting, it’s the culmination of many months of hard work.

“It might be my last game [for Scarlets] and it might not. It’s not really in my thoughts at the moment. Obviously, I’m hoping to get to the final but there’s too much going on to think about that. I’m aware it’s my last couple of weeks down here. I am just trying to enjoy the time while I am here.”

Both Glasgow and Scarlets are renowned as two of the most positive, attacking teams in the competition but a semi-final has a habit of changing the dynamic. It is interesting to note that, for all their now well developed reputation for flair, Glasgow have never scored more than 16 points in a last-four clash.

Barclay accepts the tension may make the match less open but, given the two sides’ instincts, doesn’t rule out a thrilling try feast. “I don’t know. Both teams try to move the ball regardless of the occasion,” he said.

“If opportunities are there both will go for it. I don’t know how the ebbs and flows of the game are going to go and I don’t know what the conditions will be. All I know is that it will be a tough old game and both teams will be hoping to move the ball around.”

Scarlets enjoyed a comfortable 26-8 win at home over Dave Rennie’s side last month, but Barclay isn’t reading too much into that Llanelli encounter. “I don’t think it was that one-
sided,” he said. “We kind of got away from them in the second half. We played quite well and it was one of those days when they probably didn’t fire as many shots as they wanted to. We’ll have a look at it and find areas where we felt we did well against them, but I know how disappointed they were after the game. I spoke to a couple of them. They’ve had a really good season and their record at home is outstanding. We know it’s a big challenge.”

Once the season is completed, he hopes in another week’s time, 
Barclay will return to his homeland and begin the third act of his career as part of Richard Cockerill’s rejuvenated 

The move to Wales initially led to a few years in the international wilderness but Barclay fought his way back and heads home established as Scotland skipper. He won’t, however, be part of the summer tour as he takes a well-earned break and settles in the capital. “I always want to play for Scotland but I understood that it was my heart rather than my head speaking,” he said.

“I’m gutted, disappointed to miss the tour, but there’s a lot going on in terms of moving clubs ahead of another long season with hopefully the World Cup coming over the 
horizon, so it was the right decision.”

It is a boost for Edinburgh and Scottish rugby but a big loss to Scarlets, where Barclay has earned legendary status after captaining them to that famous Pro12 thumping of Munster in Dublin 12 months ago.

“John has been immense since my arrival,” said Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac.

“This is coming to the end of my fourth season. He has been immense. His knowledge of the game is very good. He has shown how good a captain he is when he has been leading our side.

“He showed in the semi-final and final last year that he is a very good leader of players. They listen to him and follow him into action. Defence is a massive part of John’s game as well as is his communication skills in a game, so he has been a very 
big player for us over a number of years.

“We have been pleased to watch him making his way back into the Scotland side and get the captaincy where he has done a great job.

“We continue to wish John well and hopefully we have a couple of more games with him.”