The Scottish team have lifted the nation with their attacking verve and try-scoring panache and are on the brink of a first Triple Crown since 1990, but the captain revealed that coach Vern Cotter had told the players the only thing that matters this weekend is being on the right side of the scoreline.
“Vern said today ‘this isn’t ice skating; you don’t get [style] points for it’. That’s about as close to a joke as you get with Vern,” said Barclay with a smile yesterday. “But he’s right. You want to win these games and there are many ways to do that.”
Scotland’s most recent victories over the auld enemy, at home in 2008 and 2006, were tryless affairs, though Barclay accepts that the current exciting side is a completely different proposition.
Barclay, who won his first cap in 2007, missed the 2008 Calcutta Cup win when he sustained a freak injury by cutting his hand on a wine glass, and has only played at Twickenham once in a 58-cap career, when he was sin-binned in a 22-16 defeat six years ago.
He would be more than happy with a close, dour victory on Saturday but added: “If we play well we can beat teams. We have the backs now who are scoring good tries – people like [Stuart] Hoggy, [Tommy] Seymour... [Tim] Visser had a great game against Wales, Alex Dunbar is so reliable, Finn [Russell]… these guys have something about them.
“They are exciting guys to play with. But a lot of hard work goes into allowing them to have that X-factor.”
The latest contest of international rugby’s oldest fixture hasn’t had so much riding on it since the Grand Slam deciders of 1990, 1995 and 1996.
As well as regaining the Calcutta Cup, there is that long-awaited Triple Crown on offer for the Scots, while England are looking to equal New Zealand’s record of 18 consecutive Test wins. To top it all, Scotland know the breaking of that 34-year jinx in south-west London would open the door to a remarkable shot at the overall title at home to Italy on the final weekend, while Eddie Jones’ men have their sights firmly on back-to-back Grand Slams.
Barclay, who took over the captaincy after Greig Laidlaw’s tournament was ended by an ankle injury in Paris last month, said that it was important to strike a balance between feeding off the positive vibes surrounding the Scotland team following the fine wins over Ireland and Wales, while not allowing the enormity of the occasion to deflect from the job at hand.
“It’s a positive. It’s fantastic that we’re in the position where we’ve won a couple of games. But putting expectation on ourselves doesn’t actually achieve anything,” said the skipper. Playing England down there, the Calcutta Cup and their [Test winning] run are all things that happen externally. They are all things that happen on the outside.
“Within the group we’ve just looked at England and how best we can prepare for the game. Don’t get me wrong it’s fantastic walking around with people being positive and saying nice things but I know how fast these things can change.
“We’ve won two games out of three whereas England have won 17 in a row. The expectation is one thing but if you’ve won 17 games in a row you’ve probably done more.”