John Barclay on what is a successful Six Nations for Scotland - and what might be a disaster
Uncertainty continues to swirl around the future of Gregor Townsend whose contract expires after the Rugby World Cup but Barclay does not see it as a major distraction as the Scots prepare to open their campaign against England at Twickenham on February 4. Townsend’s record against the Auld Enemy is excellent, with only one defeat in five Calcutta Cup jousts, but he will be up against a new England coach this time, Steve Borthwick having succeeded Eddie Jones.
“Scotland have won at Twickenham [in 2021], they’ve also taken home the Calcutta Cup in four of the last five years, so they’ll go there full of confidence but also fully aware of a rejuvenated England,” said Barclay. “If you start well there, then you’ve got Wales the following week and we’ve been in that position before that if you can get two wins early it’s huge. But you just need to look at the quality and I think everyone’s going to beat everyone this year. You’ve got France v Ireland in week 2, so the Grand Slam is going to be off for one of the top two teams. I probably say this every year but I think this will be the most tightly contested Six Nations we’ve seen in years.”
Scotland host Wales, Ireland and Italy and travel to Twickenham and Paris. Ireland remains the one Six Nations side that the Scots have failed to beat under Townsend but they have also stumbled against Wales in the last couple of years. “I think with three home games, you have to be looking to win at least two if not three of those,” added Barclay. “Ireland's going to be the biggest challenge at home followed by Wales. Italy have shown that they're more than capable of putting some big performances together. Some of the performances of their players in the URC suggest that will continue.”
Asked what would represent a good Six Nations for Scotland, Barclay said: “I think three wins would be very good. Four would be exceptional. Is two a disaster? I guess it depends on which two you win. But if you look at the world rankings and compare the resources in Ireland, Wales, France, it’s so hard. That being said, if Scotland get moving like they did against the All Blacks and Argentina then I think they can be a match for anyone.”
Scotland hammered the Pumas 52-29 and lost narrowly to New Zealand in the autumn, generating optimism that Townsend can at least match his previous best of three wins which he achieved in the 2018, 2020 and 2021 Six Nations. Statistically, he has the best win rate of any Scotland coach in the pro era and Barclay does not believe the uncertainty about his future poses any serious impediment.
“Gregor is contracted until after the World Cup so I actually think there is stability there. We’ve got a Six Nations, summer Tests and a World Cup with a coach who is respected, who knows the players, who has been on a British and Irish Lions tour, who, of course, is going to attract interest from other clubs and other countries. That’s the nature of the beast. But I don’t think there is any need to act now.”
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