Making your Scotland debut against the famous New Zealand All Blacks. In a World Cup. At Murrayfield. Sounds like the stuff of dreams.
It will forever be a special day for John Barclay, who will captain Scotland against the same opponents at the same venue when he wins his 65th cap on Saturday evening, but in wider terms 23 September 2007, unfortunately, must go down as a bit of a black day in the history of the Scotland national team.
Then coach Frank Hadden controversially fielded a second-string team against the All Blacks that Sunday, effectively sacrificing the game in a bid to keep his first-choice players fresh for a final pool match against Italy in Saint-Etienne.
New Zealand strolled to an embarrassingly one-sided 40-0 win at Murrayfield before Scotland scraped the result they needed, an 18-16 win over the Italians, and then succumbed to Argentina in the Paris quarter-final.
The All Blacks’ quest for a first world title since 1987 foundered in the last eight when they were stunned by France in Cardiff.
“It was my first cap ten years ago,” recalled Barclay, who was an emerging 21-year-old flanker at the time.
“I just remember the speed of the game in my first international. It was their big pool game to prepare for the quarter-final and they were hacked off we had put out a second-string team effectively.
“It was tough for me because before we kept getting asked [by the media] about putting out a second-string team and we had to sit there and say we hadn’t.
“I loved the occasion, getting my first cap, the whole week was great. But as far as first caps go and the result it was not what I always dreamed of.”
There is a general feeling that decision to field a shadow side led to a diminishment of Scotland in New Zealanders’ eyes. The Scots haven’t played in the land of the long white cloud, outside of the 2011 World Cup, since 2000, though a two-Test series is pencilled in for sometime between 2020 and 2030.
New Zealand fielded a less than full-strength side themselves on their last visit to Murrayfield – a 24-16 win in 2014. The great Richie McCaw, who Barclay had shown up well against in the 2007 thumping, did skipper the team that day and a rusty Dan Carter played his first Test in a year following injury but many key players were rested.
This Saturday evening, however, will be a genuine Test as Scotland seek that ever elusive first win over New Zealand, the nation Jim Telfer famously characterised as “Scots who have learned to win”.
The All Blacks played a France XV in Lyon last night but it seems that No 8 Liam Squire, hooker Nathan Harris and utility back Lima Sopoaga are the only three involved who could be exp-ected to back up and be in the 23 for BT Murrayfield. Scotland have delayed naming their team until tomorrow, with wing Tommy Seymour looking to prove his fitness after injuring a toe in the 44-38 win over Samoa in the opening autumn Test. The All Blacks will name their side a couple of hours before and, despite losses to Ireland, the British and Irish Lions and Australia in the past year, Barclay still views Saturday’s game as the ultimate test.
“I saw a few things after the Lions tour saying the All Blacks were vulnerable on this tour. That is a bit comical really when you look at their record,” said the Scarlets back-rower.
“They are still really good. They have to have a strong mentality otherwise they would not produce these teams year in year out. They don’t have an inherent right to do so but they do. I am sure they are confident.
“We did not put in our best performance at the weekend [against Samoa] but did some good stuff. It is a big challenge but big opportunity.”
Barclay chooses not to dwell on Scotland’s record of two draws and 28 losses heading into this 32nd official meeting between the countries.
“There would be no use talking about that would there? It’s one of those stats isn’t it?” he said.
“We’ve certainly not mentioned it. I knew coming up here [to the press conference] it would be mentioned but no. It doesn’t bother me, it is what it is. It’s a stat. It will still be the stat come one minute before kick-off on the weekend. We’ll then have 80 minutes of rugby to play to try and change that record.”