6N: time for Scotland to prove themselves on the road, says Barclay

John Barclay with the Six Nations trophy. Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

NO MATTER how enthused some supporters like to be by statistics, it seems that for players they hold little appeal. Perhaps that’s because, unlike us, they have a chance to affect the here and now: why dwell on the past, after all, when you can do something about the present?

Certainly, Scotland’s dismal record in Cardiff is not of too great concern to John Barclay. The captain was only 15 the last time the national side won in the Welsh capital – a 27-22 victory in 2002 – and after Scotland ended a decade-long run of defeats in the fixture with last February’s 29-13 result at Murrayfield, you might think that he and his team-mates would talk of being long overdue a result in the principality.

But, rather than being motivated by that mournful record in Wales, Barclay is focused on a wider aim on Saturday. For him winning any away game is a challenge, but one which this Scotland team, he believes, is ready to meet regularly.

“That stat doesn’t provide us with more motivation, not for me personally,” he said at the NatWest Six Nations launch in London when reminded of the 16-year wait for a win in Cardiff. “The motivation is great enough. The away win last year in Australia showed us something, as winning in Sydney is massive. Not many teams do that and the way we did it was just fantastic.

“It’s tough, but someone told me that only one team won away in the Six Nations last season outside of Italy, and that was England winning in Wales in the last minute. That shows how hard it is to win away from home. But ultimately if we’re going to do well in the Six Nations then we have three away games, so the maths is pretty straightforward.”

Scotland, of course, came pretty close to winning in Cardiff in 2010, collapsing in a calamitous last 17 minutes in which they had two men sinbinned and conceded 17 points. In one sense, that game eight years ago is an object lesson in how not to go about trying to win a rugby match, but the way in which Scotland started at such a high tempo was a minor foretaste of the team’s current style of play – the crucial difference being that they are now fit enough and focused enough to keep it up for 80 minutes.

Certainly, Barclay, who scored his team’s first try in that match, believes that the all-out aggression shown then must be emulated on Saturday. “The template of our rugby now is that we know if we sit back against these sides then we’ll get killed. We didn’t do it against New Zealand or Australia – if we did that then it would be game over.

“We showed that if we are the aggressors, if we go out, to use a boxing analogy, swinging, and put it all out there then we put ourselves in good positions. We did that in the autumn and we’re not going to change. We’re going to go out there and attack. Both in defence and attack we will go after teams.”

Also speaking at the Six Nations launch, Gregor Townsend echoed that message, insisting that demanding higher standards from his team would give them the best chance of success. Scotland’s head coach has had a reputation since his early playing days for favouring an adventurous and ambitious style, but his adoption of such a style for the national team is more than just a personal predilection. Instead, he simply believes it is the way in which the sport is moving.

We’ve got to be ambitious,” he said. “If you’re not, you’re already half-thinking you’re not good enough to win.

We believe we’re good enough to take on any team in the world. We had No 1 and No 3 in the world to play over November, and now No 2 and No 3 [England and Ireland respectively] are coming up in this Six Nations. And obviously Wales have won the tournament a number of times and also beat South Africa in the autumn. We know we’ll have to be very good to beat them.

“I believe that all the teams are looking to play faster rugby. Wales had the most passes of any team in the world over November, so they’re obviously trying to move their game forward.

“We’ve got to build on what we achieved in 2017, especially our last couple of games. Those are fresh in our mind and are the games that we’re reviewing, talking through with our players to say what we did there. Whether it was off the ball, in training or in finishing off plays, we need to do it again and we need to do it more regularly.”

About Stuart Bathgate 1438 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.