The Scotland squad spent Monday night at the cinema watching the new Joker movie and, while it was revealed that Ryan Wilson does a mean impression of the character played by Joaquin Phoenix it was John Barclay, who is back as skipper for today’s must-win-with-a-bonus point clash against Russia who was making the cracks at the eve of match press conference.
The 33-year-old Edinburgh back-rower, who was one of the experienced players dropped after the poor showing against Ireland in the opener, was asked what he thought of the new-look loose-forward trio of Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie and Blade Thomson, who gained rave reviews for their display against Samoa last Monday.
“I thought they were rubbish,” said Barclay with that laconic smile of his.
“No, they were good, weren’t they? I’ve played enough with Maggie and Jamie at Edinburgh so I know the quality they have, and I know enough about Blade from speaking to the boys at Scarlets about the qualities he has. And just from being in and around him.
“It’s one of those when you knew there would be a reaction. I didn’t doubt the back row would play well, it was a physical game and the boys played really well I thought.”
Barclay had a bit of a tight groin following the 27-3 loss to the Irish in Yokohama but it was made clear that he, along with Wilson and Tommy Seymour, who were part of the much-hyped most experienced Scotland starting XV ever, had been dropped for the second Pool A game in Kobe.
“I have been disappointed, I’ve been frustrated since the Ireland game,” admitted Barclay, who will win his 76th cap at the Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, and lead the team out with squad captain Stuart McInally on the bench.
“The whole game was frustrating, but it’s part of being a rugby player. It’s the first time I have been left out of the squad since I returned to the fold a few years ago.
“It’s been tough, but know all my focus is on Russia.”
That out-of-the-fold wilderness period Barclay referred to came after the 28-0 loss to South Africa when, by then playing his club rugby at Scarlets, Barclay wasn’t capped for two years and didn’t feature in a Six Nations game for three. Vern Cotter brought him back for the build up to the 2015 World Cup but left him out of his final squad.
Since then the former Glasgow player has re-emerged as a key senior figure in the national set-up and had assumed the captaincy until a ruptured Achilles in May 2018 kept him sidelined for the best part of a year.
He is back in that lead role again today but accepts that on this occasion he is deputising for hooker McInally.
“I have always loved captaining the team. It’s a strange one, I love doing it but it comes with pressures and responsibilities,” he said.
“When you’re not captain you can put your feet up a wee bit. But it’s still a massive honour, especially in the World Cup. My goal was to get out here so to know be afforded the opportunity to captain the side is a huge honour.
“Aside from that, it doesn’t change a great deal. I will have experienced guys around me, whether it be Ryan Wilson or Duncan Taylor.”
Ritchie and Bradbury are on the bench but the general assumption is that coach Gregor Townsend will look to go with the same back row that performed so well against Samoa in the Japan crunch.
“The big game for me is Russia, I’ve no idea what the team will be for Japan,” said Barclay.
“I guess the reality is that the guys who are playing against Russia will be on the outskirts for the next game. It doesn’t take much to work out. But, equally, for the guys who are playing against Russia there is huge motivation to get involved for that Japan match.
“The reality is there will need to be a big performance and I need to prove I deserve to be involved against Japan.”
Barclay said he has been enjoying the “vibe” in camp following that pressure-releasing 34-0 rout of Samoa in Kobe.
“We spent a lot of time playing indoor cricket. We are starting to get up to a bit of no good in the hotel. A bit of messing around,” he revealed.
“Someone was talking about taping all the furniture in someone's room to the ceiling in the other day.
“We don't have bundles of time with travelling to and from training and all the other stuff we have to do in terms of recovery and looking at computers.
“I guess we just do all the normal stuff we do at home. It's just a bit more exciting going to try different things in Japan.
“We went to see the Joker last night. It's very good for anyone who hasn't seen it. Ryan does a good impression.
“It's been fun to be honest. Tours, as much as I love them, they can drag on a bit. We've been away for more than four weeks now but I haven't felt any discontent. Everyone is enjoying themselves.
“I guess we're getting to the pressure stage where it's do or die.”
The atmosphere at the 50,000-capacity Ecopa Stadium, which was built for the 2002 football World Cup, is set to be a high-pitched one with 16,000 local school children in attendance.
“We went to a school in Kobe and there was about 500 there. It was pretty hectic but in a good way,” said Barclay.
“There was a lot of energy. This country has a lot of enthusiasm for everything but rugby in particular.
“For me, Japan have embraced this World Cup completely. You got to schools and there are things written and drawn about you and the whole school is covered in stuff about Scottish rugby. I don't even know if they have watched a game of rugby. But they are embracing it.
“The Japanese people get behind it. The way we try to play, is to play a fast, open brand of rugby which should be exciting for them to watch.”
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