JOHN BARCLAY is to leave Edinburgh Rugby at the end of this season – meaning that, unless there is a resumption of play within the next two months, he has played his last game for the team he joined in 2018.
“John will not be with us next season,” Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill said of the 33-year-old, who retired from international duty late last year after winning 76 caps for Scotland. “Unless we play before 1 July, I would assume that he has played his last game, unfortunately.
“When he has been fit and available, he has a lot of experience and he has played well for us. But we do have a fantastic stable of young Scottish back-rowers who are coming through and the evolution of the squad is such that the back row is a very competitive position with lots of young players there.”
Barclay, who was a Glasgow player for eight years from 2005 before joining Scarlets, signed for Edinburgh in 2018. He missed much of his first season through injury, eventually making his debut in March of the following year. He has played 14 times for Cockerill’s team.
Cockerill had hinted before that he might not be able to offer Barclay a new contract, and while the forward’s experience has meant he has contributed considerably more to the team than just that handful of appearances, the coach is right to point out that he has an embarrassment of riches in the back row. Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Magnus Bradbury are all now established Scotland internationals, Bill Mata is a world-class talent, and Nick Haining has had an outstanding debut season which culminated in making his Test debut for Gregor Townsend‘s side in the Six Nations. With the likes of Luke Crosbie, Mesu Kunavula, plus youngsters Connor Boyle and Rory Darge, also in the mix, there are a lot of players to accommodate in the 6, 7 and 8 jerseys.
Edinburgh are due to publish a list of arrivals and departures for season 2020-21 at some point next week. Simon Hickey and Matt Scott were among the players whose future with the team was uncertain when all rugby was suspended, and yesterday Cockerill said he was unable to give an update on either the stand-off or the centre.
Play-offs preferred option
Meanwhile, a complete programme of PRO14 play-offs would be preferable to a straight final as a way to end the season, according to Cockerill, even though his own Edinburgh team would be the beneficiaries of the latter approach.
The only acceptable way to round off the season in a single game would be for conference leaders Leinster and Edinburgh to go head to head, and PRO14 have already said that in the event of going straight to a final, the team with the best record would host the showpiece occasion. As Leinster have won all their games in Conference A, while Edinburgh have lost three, that would mean the final being held at the RDS in Dublin.
However, Cockerill believes it is only fair that, if at all possible, other teams in contention for play-off places should also be involved in the climax to the season. He accepted that there was still complete uncertainty about when rugby would resume, but insisted that, if there were time to complete this season in some fashion before embarking on the next campaign, those other contenders for the title would have a right to be deeply dissatisfied by any exclusion.
“We’re fortunate that we sit in the position we do, but there are still eight rounds of rugby to go with some very good teams, like Munster and Scarlets in our conference and Ulster in the other one,” the Edinburgh head coach said. “They would feel pretty aggrieved. (So, incidentally, might Glasgow Warriors, who are currently third behind Leinster and Ulster in Conference A).
“Whatever the outcome, the process of getting a resolution to the season is not going to be ideal. Personally, if you were going to go down that route, it would probably be better to have quarters, semis and finals with the top three from each conference.
“But we’re all guessing when we’ll be allowed to have public gatherings or play behind closed doors or anything else. I’m sure there will be, if possible, the fittest and best way to get this up and running.”Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 27)
PRO14 have yet to announce a deadline for a resumption of this season, and the fact that teams from Italy and South Africa are also involved would complicate any attempt to fulfill the whole fixture card. While remaining hopeful of bringing season 2019-20 to some sort of conclusion, Cockerill acknowledged that public health had to be the overriding consideration.
“It’s going to be hard in the very short term,” he said of a potential resumption. “You look at South Africa and Italy and there will be issues coming and going there. Even in the UK it’s going to be difficult to go and visit teams in other countries.
“It does add a complication, but I’m sure the PRO14 are looking at every which way to get some sort of conclusion to this season. We all want that to happen: everyone is desperately missing sport and everyone wants to go back to work to keep their jobs safe.
“I think we’ve all got a pretty open mind. We’re hoping that in some way, shape or form we can have a conclusion to the season, because a lot of hard work has gone in from everybody.
“The health of everybody is far more important and we’ll go with the government guidelines around all of that, for obvious reasons. But if we can, if it means we’re playing in July and August, or August, or later on, and then we just roll into next season, because that’s how this makes the financial model of the game work, and we can all get the thing up and running and we can all make it efficient again and we can all pay the bills – then I think personally, I’d be accepting of that.
“I’m hoping that we get to play some rugby, but not to the detriment of everything else that’s going on, which is clearly far more important. But at some point, the world has got to get back on its feet and start earning again, which obviously at the moment it’s not.”
While his squad are on furlough, Cockerill has continued to plan for next season, as well as finding time for some exercise. When it comes to home-schooling his children, however, he admitted he had not been much help.
“I’ve dusted my bicycle out of the shed and have been doing miles on the bike. Doing a little bit of work and preparing for if we come back and looking at pre-season too if we don’t end up doing anything till August or September or whenever that is.
“The kids are educating themselves at home because I’m no help at all. And I’m just watching rugby and putting stuff together that will help us when we get back in. Just keeping fit and getting fresh air as and when I can.”