John Barclay brings curtain down on 16-year professional playing career

33-year-old former Scotland captain expresses concern about player welfare and the cut-throat business nature of the modern game

John Barclay has announced the end of his 16 year professional playing career. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson
John Barclay has announced the end of his 16 year professional playing career. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

FORMER Scotland captain John Barclay has announced the end of his 16-year career playing professional rugby. The 33-year-old stepped down from international duty after last year’s World Cup, but had hoped to extend his club career beyond this summer when his contract ran out, but a new deal was not forthcoming from Edinburgh and he has now decided it is the end of the road.

Barclay, who was capped 76 times by Scotland, delivered the news in his new column in The Times newspaper where he reminisced about career highlights such as playing opposite Richie McCaw in his first ever Test match during the 2007 World Cup, lifting the Calcutta Cup as Scotland captain in 2018 and leading the Scarlets to the Pro14 title in 2017.

He also reflected on a few disappointments, such as failing to make a Lions tour, being dropped out of the Scotland set-up for the best part of three years by Scott Johnson, and the injuries he suffered, which include a ruptured Achilles which virtually wiped out his first season with Edinburgh [2018-19] and perhaps signalled the beginning of the end of his playing days.

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“Bizarrely, one of the things I will most miss is that feeling after a game, and the days that followed of complete physical misery,” added the former Glasgow Warriors, Scarlets and Edinburgh flanker. “The pain and suffering meant you had done something worthwhile to feel that way. But the long-term impact on the body will be felt for years to come and won’t be felt quite as fondly.”

“You try to cover them up but the last few years of my rugby career were played in pain. Failed surgeries left me with broken screws in my shoulder. I have bad arthritis as the legacy of a missed broken wrist and ruptured scaphoid lunate ligament. Ask me to throw a ball and I would struggle. Broken bones, torn hamstrings, enough stitches to make a seamstress jealous. Then there were all the concussions, far too many to list. And there was the serious Achilles injury that cost me the best part of a season when I came back to Scotland from Wales. All worth it. No doubt about it; but painful all the same.”

Barclay then discussed his worries about rugby’s duty of care to present and former players, and expressed particular concern for professionals who have not quite reached the top level so don’t leave the game with the financial stability and profile that he has.

“More and more, it seems that the game’s most noble, decent and worthy traditions are being cast aside as the top end of rugby becomes a harsher business in which the bottom line is everything and the welfare of those involved in it counts for little,” he wrote.

Barclay was an uncapped 20-year-old when he was selected for the 2007 World Cup. Image: David Gibson/Fotosport

“We are in danger of losing the values that make our game great: family, respect and honesty. We are in danger of creating a system in which players have become components in a commercial juggernaut — to be discarded without thought once their usefulness has been exhausted. The business side of rugby has advanced at a spectacular pace and the players have been the beneficiaries undoubtedly. Better wages, tv coverage, off-field opportunities through third party sponsorship agreements all puts rugby players in a highly privileged position. But this career is short, and for the vast majority, the next step is the big one.”

Barclay explained that he feels he has a lot to offer back to the game as a former player, but expressed doubt about whether he would be prepared to jump on the treadmill of rolling contracts in an increasingly cut-throat business environment.

“And so do I have any regrets? Not particularly,” he concluded.

“Yes there were mistakes along the way and incidences I got wrong on and off the pitch. And the ending was oh so dreary. But nobody deserves a fairytale send off. Why? Because if you are lucky enough to play this game as a career for as long as I managed, then the whole thing is a part of the fairytale, start to finish.

“After all those years on the pitch I cannot wait to be watching those playing out their own fairytale, but this time, from the stands.”

He walks away as one of Scottish rugby’s all-time greats.

About David Barnes 3816 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Couldn’t agree more with the comments here. Barclay was a true great, a real servant to his country, and never left anything in the changing room. In terms of his future, I hope it is successful, something within Scottish rugby, and with the very best of health.

  2. What a servant to Scotland and the clubs he played for – a Scotland great and a real proponent of rugby values. Thank you John and all the very best for the future

  3. I was at Parc y Scarlets for the Edinburgh game last season and the reception he got from the home fans was superb – a real measure of the man.

    I totally agree with the previous comment hoping there will be a future role for him in Scottish rugby. His critical insights are too valuable to be left to TV and newspaper columns.

  4. great player, great man. What sort of idiot could ignore him during the best and most effective years of his career? A very very special sort.

    Barclay has been an amazing servant to Scottish Rugby, I hope he can find a way to put something more into it. Even his punditry and blogs are a class above the rest

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