Rugby: Flanker to draw on World Cup experience

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John BARCLAY is determined to draw on bitter-sweet experience of the previous rugby World Cup to ensure a heavier involvement when the latest global tournament gets underway in New Zealand next month.

Back in 2007, the flanker, now 24, made his debut against New Zealand but the fact Scotland lost 0-40 amidst a furore when a string of front-line players were rested, left him not knowing whether to laugh or cry, and admitted in an interview in the latest Rugby World magazine: “There were mixed emotions for my first cap because it was great to get it but we were beaten by 40 points.”

That was because the Scots’ management of the time had decided to put heavy emphasis on the subsequent clash with Italy which they determined would decide who qualified for the knock-out stages as group runners-up.

Barclay added: “The papers were saying it was disgraceful to put out such a side against the All Blacks. I was disappointed that the Italy game seemed like the be-all and end-all of our tournament.”

Then, in a reference to how the Scots left their effort too late against Argentina next up and ran out of time amidst heavy pressure on the opposition line, Barclay says: “We were so focused on beating Italy that we then missed a chance to win the quarter-final.”

Categorically, though, Barclay is desperate to enhance his World Cup cv and will have the chance to book his place in the 30-man squad when Italy visit Murrayfield on Saturday week for the second EMC warm-up Test, coach Andy Robinson having already indicated he will start the fixture.

If he goes to New Zealand – and it is almost unthinkable the 27-timed capped Glasgow flanker will miss out – he will renew acquaintance with a country he visited in 2005 on a Macphail scholarship which continues to evoke warm memories.

“The trip was a huge eye-opener to what a huge deal rugby is over there. I was there when the Lions were there and 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all anyone was talking about in the pubs and shops was rugby.

“The adverts on the cereal packets all have rugby players on them. They are real superstars.

“Playing club rugby and being involved in the Wellington Academy I could see the numbers they have and the quality they have in reserve is frightening at times.

“It’s a rugby-crazy country so if I get the chance to be in that environment again and to go back four years after winning my first cap against New Zealand – that would be an incredible experience.”

Coincidentally, “incredible experience” is the phrase Barclay uses to describe his time at the 2007 World Cup while qualifying his remarks because of the fact he played only one game out of the five Scotland were involved in.

“It was incredible to experience a World Cup especially in France where they really embraced the tournament and the crowds were great for every game. Yet I ended up feeling frustrated because I was away for a long time and only played one game. People forget how long you spend preparing for a World Cup.

“We had a countdown clock on the wall of the gym and when I first went in there I think it was two months to go before the tournament. But I had to remember I was lucky to be in that position and there were other players who were desperate to be where I was. It certainly seems like a long time ago that I got my first cap.”

This time round and having, for the moment anyway, seen off Ally Hogg who held down the No. 7 jersey in 2007, he intends to be a regular starter, saying: “I’ve matured and I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t a far better player now. Physically, I’m in a lot better shape.”

As for the team prospects sights are set high.

“As a bare minimum, our aim would be to get to the quarter-finals and then re-evaluate the situation,” says Barclay.