John Barclay column: 'Australia are a good side, but so are Scotland'

John Barclay
Australia v Scotland
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney Date: Saturday 17 June Kick-off: 06:00 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Sport Scotland website & BBC Radio Scotland

Sitting outside a coffee shop by Coogee beach thinking about this column and Tim Swinson and Rob Harley, the brains of our operation, are at a nearby table probably drilling down into the General Election and Brexit and where we all go from here.

John Hardie shared a room with Swinno last week. I'm not sure Hards understood a lot of what was said that week. There's a guy across the road rearranging his bed in the back of a small campervan. Looks like he might be going swimming soon. Not a bad life here in Australia. When you can still go swimming in winter you know things aren't too shabby.

As rugby players, we always like to look forward, we don't tend to look backwards all that much. It's no harm to do it sometimes, though. It helps to remind you - if you need reminding - that these are pretty special moments. Sitting here as Scotland captain in Greig Laidlaw's absence is lovely and surreal at the same time.

We're playing the Wallabies on Saturday after losing to them by one point in the autumn - very hard to take - and by one point at the World Cup, which was hard enough to take as I watched it at home so I can only imagine what it was like for the boys who played in it. I didn't watch it live. I got a text from my dad while it was happening and he said, "Are you looking at this?!" but I only sat down to take it in later that night.

Missing that World Cup was the most disappointed I've ever been in rugby. I wanted to be part of it, but wasn't. It was a bit galling. I've always said that coming back into the set-up for the Six Nations in 2016 after not playing in the championship for four years was probably an even prouder moment for me than winning my first cap.

When I wasn't making the squad people used to ask me why. Somebody said, 'Why don't you announce your Scotland retirement?' and I thought that's all fine but I'm not playing so what, exactly, am I retiring from?

We had a second-row at Glasgow, Andy Newman, a Welshman, and Andy never got capped and he always said, self-mockingly, that one day he was going to announce that he was retiring from international rugby. Pete Edwards is like that at the Scarlets. Pete's a prop and a great character. He's 36, has never been capped and he says, "Boys, this is the year I'm going to do it, I'm finally going to quit Test rugby."

Hopefully that's where the similarities between Pete and myself end, but I felt saying I was retiring from Scotland would have had the same vibe. It would have been comic and a bit embarrassing. I didn't consider it, though I wondered if I'd ever be back.

The only point that I could see in saying that I was quitting was maybe to give my family some closure on it, to stop them waiting for a day that I might be selected again. I believe in a way it's always hardest on those around you who would back you no matter what.

So being here in Coogee is brilliantly bizarre.

Scotland
Scotland lost 22-23 at Murrayfield in their last meeting with Australia in November 2016

We got here on Sunday night and went for a dip in the sea on Monday. After the humidity of Singapore it was great to get in the water and cool down. The game against Italy was draining. Successful, but difficult in a way that's hard to describe. There was almost an inability to stand up at times in that match.

I grew up in that kind of heat in Hong Kong and various other places yet I can't remember the heat as vividly as perhaps I should. I loved Singapore, a very exciting city, but I'm not sure I'd ever get used to that wall of humidity that hits you every time you walk out the door. Coogee in winter is a lot easier.

Could I live here? 100%. Places like Coogee and Manly take some beating. There's a big coffee culture, and I, like many rugby players enjoy a cup. I wouldn't mind opening a coffee shop of my own when I retire but I think the romantic idea of sipping on espresso is slightly different to the reality of it.

Greig Laidlaw
The Scots were denied a place in the 2015 World Cup semi-final by a controversial late penalty against Australia

I went to a training day with a full-on barista guy once and he showed me how you make good coffee rather than burning it. You go to some places now and it's a waste of time drinking the stuff. I saw somebody making one for me in a shop recently and I thought, "I'm going to throw that in the bin when he's finished".

The other lads used to roll their eyes as we walked past countless coffee shops on our way to one recommended on "Beanhunter". Slowly but surely I think I am starting to turn the screw with them.

Coogee is an easy place to find your way around. That's a challenge for me at times. My sense of direction is not exactly of Vasco de Gama proportions, a fact that amuses my wife no end. If I'm faced with a left or right turn, I'm likely to pick the wrong one. I went for a nice walk in Singapore with some of the boys and managed to lose my way.

Rory Hughes was trying to navigate us home and I was getting drenched in sweat as we wandered. I can't read a map so I couldn't say too much. That's another thing Coogee has on it's side - you can't get lost. Follow the beach down the road and follow it back again. Easy.

Scotland
Scotland secured a famous victory in Australia in June 2012, beating the Wallabies 9-6 in Newcastle

As ever, I'm rooming with Ryan Wilson. He'd be lost without me. The captain tends to get his own room if there's an odd number of players and since Lewis Carmichael joined us there's an odd number, but I'm staying where I am. Besides, there's the entertainment he offers sometimes when he sleep-talks and walks.

He woke me up once at three in the morning emptying his bag upside down while looking for a snorkel. He found "it" and woke sucking on his inhaler like a baby. I always say I should record him.

We all face a huge job on Saturday against the Wallabies. The last five games between us have ended with a single score in it, so it should be close. They're a good side and so are we. The conditions will be easier than Singapore but the challenge will be harder.

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'We have grown from tough losses against Australia'

Everything around training has been intense but there's been a lot of fun as well. Meetings have continued to start in normal fashion. That is, with a challenge. Two players' names are drawn out of a hat and they have to perform a task.

Last week, myself and Ross Ford had to do a 90-second commentary on our last Scotland try. Mine was from the Italy game in 2016. Fordy's was from 2008. Then he goes and scores two in Singapore.

At the conclusion of the challenge, both players then have to stand in front of the room and tell everybody about their background - where they're from, what family they have, that kind of thing. It's a fun way to start a meeting and a great way to get to know guys you might not know properly.

It helps strengthen the connection between the players. The best way to do that is, of course, to win Test matches, and we'll be going all out to do that in Sydney on Saturday.

John Barclay was talking to BBC Sport Scotland's chief sports writer, Tom English.

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