John BARCLAY has returned to Scotland’s matchday rugby squad armed with the inside track on today’s opening viagogo Autumn Test opponents, Japan.
The 41-times capped back row, who made his last international appearance as a substitute in the ill-fated fixture with Tonga in Aberdeen last year, is now a member of the Scarlets club.
Even before he knew he was being included on the bench today, Barclay made a point of picking the brains of clubmates who were in the Welsh squad which visited Japan over the summer.
The Welsh, shorn of 15 Lions, posted a 22-18 first Test win in Osaka before being brought back to earth when losing 8-23 in the Tokyo return match.
Scarlets colleagues Liam Williams, Emyr Phillips and Rhodri Jones all turned out in Tokyo.
“The feeling I get from the Welsh boys is that they underestimated Japan,” said Barclay, adding: “It is something we must avoid.
“Wales went in with a game plan which just didn’t work. In the second Test it wasn’t even close, I was told. Wales might have had more-or-less a second team out – but there were still good players on duty.”
Barclay has done his own homework in watching videos of the team known as the “Brave Blossoms” and it has convinced him to expect the unexpected.
“The speed Japan play at means it will be a different game to that which a lot of us have played before.
“Japan are deemed one of the lower teams on the ranking list but the number of clubs they have, the number of pro players and the money being invested there – leaving aside the fact they beat Wales – means they will definitely be a good team.
“The speed they play is very quick and they’ll pose questions. The fact they host the 2019 World Cup will mean a lot of development going on and while there was a perception that their league was somewhere to go near the end of a career for an easy life, that is certainly not the way it is now.
“We definitely have to be on our guard. Enough of our boys were involved against Tonga to know how that felt and it is something we don’t want ever to be repeated.
“I’ve not played since the Tonga game and in the meantime have had a hamstring problem and shoulder surgery.
“Being out meant it was really hard to watch Scotland as I so wanted to be involved.
“But it has been a nice little reminder of how important it is to play for your country.
“It has been different coming north as an exile, though.
“The environment is not as intense as at home and it just lets you get on with your game.”
For Barclay there is an extra significance, as getting on the pitch will mean having played against every one of the top 15 IRB ranked countries.
Meanwhile, stand-off Ruaridh Jackson believes that the form shown by his Glasgow team in going to the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 League can be carried on to the Test scene.
“It definitely helps,” he said. “We’ve only lost one league match and were able to bounce straight back so there is a real confidence that can be brought to the squad.
“That said, Japan are a slight known albeit they have improved massively and with a World Cup to host in 2019 will want to bring something big into their own tournament.”