Captain John Barclay admits there would be special personal resonance if Scotland can win in Wales for the first time in 16 years and get the NatWest Six Nations off to the perfect start.
Barclay left Glasgow for Llanelli Scarlets four-and-a-half years ago and has become steeped in the culture of the rugby-mad principality. His young children are Welsh speakers and his time there has given the 31-year-old a Pro12 title and helped him back into the Scotland set-up after some wilderness years.
Now cemented as the national skipper, the flanker, who will return north to join Edinburgh next season, would dearly love his last game against Wales as a resident in the country to end in victory.
“I’ve got so much respect for the guys down there that it’d be great,” he said at BT Murrayfield yesterday before the squad’s departure south.
“But it’s not so much about bragging rights, I know how much they put into it and how much rugby means to them and to the Wales team. So it’d be great just because I know how hard it is to beat them, and because I know how long it has been since we won down there.”
Wales have been keen to hand the tag of favourites to the Scots on the back of a fine 2017 and there has also been a slightly cheeky move in plans to show the dramatic 2010 game between the countries on the big screen of the Principality Stadium ahead of the match. That encounter was selected by a public vote.
Barclay scored in that match but doesn’t have good memories of an afternoon when the Scots blew a ten-point lead in the closing ten minutes and lost Thom Evans and Chris Paterson to serious injuries.
“I don’t know why they are doing that,” said Barclay. “It doesn’t affect the players. We will crack on.”
For all the talking up of Scotland’s chances, Barclay has lived in Wales long enough to know that, despite a host of big-name injuries, there will be confidence that their long home unbeaten record in the fixture can be extended.
“That is not what would be said in Wales,” said Barclay when asked about the favourites’ status.
“The expectation is always there in Wales. There are so many good players. Some down there will be frustrated because of the injuries but encouraged by the way Scarlets have been playing and so many Scarlets have been picked.”
Barclay senses the stirring of some respect for Scotland from the Welsh but admitted that perception has not always been the case.
“It was probably not that good,” he said of the Wales rugby public’s view of Scotland. “I didn’t feel uncomfortable or embarrassed because I’m proud of being Scottish, but there’s always going to be a bit of banter kicking around in rugby circles and you’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt.
“If you don’t win many games then that’s going to be the opinion that’s formed of you. But that’s the job we’ve had – to turn that around, and I feel that in the last two years or so under Vern [Cotter] and now Gregor [Townsend] we’ve managed to turn that around a little bit and that’s why it’s important that we continue that improvement.”
With the roof closed today, Barclay is expecting another electric atmosphere.
“Once we get going, most of the guys are going to be motivated by the fact that it’s a big occasion,” he said. “The Principality Stadium is one of those places you just want to play at, and I’ve been lucky enough to play there a couple of times. I get to play there with Scarlets once a year and it’s one of those places that, when I leave, I hope I get to play there again.
“The noise is incredible. I’ve never been a spectator there – my wife has, and says it’s incredible – but when you’re in the middle of the pitch it’s something quite special.”
Barclay will have plenty of support from a core of senior players, none more so than his predecessor as captain, scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, who returns on the bench after nearly a year’s absence from national duty through injuries and Lions commitments.
“It’s not too different to be honest,” said Barclay of captaining a squad which also includes Laidlaw. “I’ve been involved with Greig when he was captain and I was involved in the leadership group when he was captain, so it’s just great for me to have Greig back.
“I’ve played with him since I was 16 and he was the under-18s captain then. He’s one of my good mates, so I’m just glad he’s back involved.
“He’s a great player who’s got experience of the Lions, he’s got so much experience and the way he plays he’s a great head to have around the group, so it’s just great for the squad that he’s back.”