John Barclay banks on Welsh advice as Scots aim to rock England

Stuart Hogg was in good spirits at yesterday's captain's run. Picture: SNS/SRU
Stuart Hogg was in good spirits at yesterday's captain's run. Picture: SNS/SRU
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John Barclay is hoping the visit back to his adopted current home in Wales last weekend proves as useful as it was eventful.

When he wasn’t experiencing an earthquake he was picking the brains of the Scarlets team-mates who were involved the previous weekend when Wales pushed England hard in a tight 12-6 loss at Twickenham.

Scotland are braced for a formidable challenge from the world’s second-ranked side in the 125th staging of the Calcutta Cup at BT Murrayfield this evening, and Barclay is open to any advice.

“I went into the club on the week off and just had a little chat with some of them but the footage is there for you to see their [England] strategies too,” said Barclay.

“They [Wales] gave away two penalties in the whole game – I don’t know if that’s ever been done before, that’s disciplined. They had a very clear strategy, a few calls here or there and the game could have gone the other way. I thought they played very well.”

Scotland will have to emulate that kind of discipline today against a side that combines physicality, watertight defence and the ruthless ability to finish off opportunities when they arise.

“They have won 24 in 25. I think [England] are clear favourites,” said Barclay. “They have to be, look at their record. Their record against Scotland makes it pretty clear. That said Ireland beat them last year and every team is beatable.

“There has not been a team in history that have won every game ever. They are a quality side. It is a huge task for us to knock them off.”

Forwards coach Dan McFarland, meanwhile, believes that today’s game is on a par with facing world champions New Zealand.

The Scots went down 
narrowly to the All Blacks in November, posting an impressive performance, but the intensity of a Six Nations game, the biggest of the year for the home side, elevates the challenge a few notches.

“Definitely,” said the assistant when asked about the New Zealand comparison. “[England] are the second best team in the world so what an opportunity for us to put a performance in. They’ll challenge us in different ways but also similarly to the All Blacks with their ability to run the ball and their physical presence.

“They are a side who produce a specific style of play but there are variants within that off setpiece in terms of the moves. There’s plenty of variation in that.

“I think in terms of how they approach the game, with strong setpiece and suffocating defence, we know what’s coming.”

A backline orchestrated by the George Ford-Owen Farrell axis will test a Scottish defence which has been erratic in the last few matches, with a tendency to leak tries, particularly early on. They have got away with it on some occasions, but if they put themselves in jail today they are likely to find it is of the maximum security variety.

The frontline exchanges in the scrum will set the tone and McFarland is sure his pack will rise to this most formidable of challenges.

“I’m very confident in our fellas,” he said. “They did a really good job in the first two games. We’ve prepared well.

“Some of the intensity of the scrums training has been fantastic and they’ve put up a good show against Wales and France. That was excellent. In terms of the contest against England, they put a big emphasis on their setpiece as England sides have always done. They will pose a significant challenge but I’m confident it’s one we will meet.

“Every week, you’re trying to prove a point. They will offer different threats to France, 
different threat to Wales at scrum time.

“They have a stated intent to be the No 1 scrum in the world. They got to train against Georgia last week and apparently had brilliant preparations.

“So they will be coming full of confidence. We understand that it’s a big task – but it’s one we relish. The lads will want 
to test themselves against 
England’s scrum, definitely.”

McFarland is equally confident that returning tighthead WP Nel is ready to come off the bench and make an impact despite not playing since he broke his arm in the first autumn Tests against Samoa.

Nel is certain to be required in the second half but there is always the chance an even longer comeback stint may be required.

“He’s demonstrated a number of things. You don’t gamble on selections like that,” said McFarland of Nel, who he considers to be “up there” with the best tightheads he has worked with.

“His fitness, he’s been 
working back to playing 
levels with his club and we’ve been monitoring him. Since he’s been in the squad, last week as well as this week, he’s trained really, really well. In terms of his scrummaging, we had a bit of a marker when he went on tour in the summer. He had done relatively little scrummaging prior to playing against Italy – but was excellent in that game.

“So we are really confident that WP is in a position to play well.”