Scotland head coach Vern Cotter praised John Barclay’s attitude and desire to improve his all-round game after bringing him back to play his first Six Nations game for nearly four years in tomorrow’s Calcutta Cup clash at BT Murrayfield.
The 29-year-old, who left Glasgow for Scarlets in 2013, will earn his 46th cap after being picked ahead of Blair Cowan in one of just two changes from the starting XV which lined up against Australia in the World Cup quarter-final.
The other sees Matt Scott partner fit-again Mark Bennett at centre.
Barclay was brought into the World Cup training camp last summer but failed to make Cotter’s final 31-man squad. He did play in two of the World Cup warm-up matches – his first games for Scotland since facing South Africa in November 2013. His last taste of Six Nations action was the 2012 defeat in Rome.
“It’s what John himself has done and the ability he has,” said Cotter of his decision to pick the natural openside who can play in all three back-row positions. “John Hardie has been playing very well at seven. But John [Barclay]’s experience at seven, his ability all over the park, means he’s got the ability to back up someone like that. And he’s a good link player. So we feel it’s good to have someone who can make that pass and combine with the backs.
“I think that’s what he offers us. Blair will come into the game and keep attacking, he’s a great attacking player. We know that it’s very important that 23 players could be involved – and that they keep at them.”
With England opting for two natural blindsides in Chris Robshaw and James Haskell, the back-row is shaping up to be a crucial battleground.
Cotter added: “Blair covers three positions, as well. We know John plays No 8 for Scarlets, Blair has played there before – so we are balanced and keeping our options open.”
Cotter said Bennett had been given the green light this week after recovering from a shoulder injury. “He was signed off by [the] medical [staff] and he seems fine,” said the coach. “It seemed it was going to be a month or two. A second look showed it wasn’t. He’s followed protocols and he’s back.”
On the bench, Zander Fagerson, the 20-year-old Glasgow tighthead, is in line to become Scotland’s youngest prop since Bill Black in 1948. “He’s got a couple of old boys helping along and it’s a very exciting moment for Zander,” said Cotter. “He is as good as I’ve seen [in that position] at that age.”
Saracens centre Duncan Taylor has been named on the bench but faces tests on a back strain. If he is ruled out his place will go to Sean Lamont.
“Duncan has a back injury but there are positive signs that he could come through and play a part,” said Cotter. “He can cover two positions from the bench. A final call will be made after a night’s rest.”