Scotland tour to Japan: John Barclay rested and raring to go

By Bryn PalmerBBC Scotland Sport
John Barclay plays a pass for Scotland in their Six Nations win over France
Barclay started all five of Scotland's Six Nations games to bring his tally to 50 caps

Pumped-up hosts desperate to turn you over, body and mind weary, the culmination of 12 months of almost non-stop rugby.

End-of-season tours to the southern hemisphere tend to be sobering affairs for British and Irish teams venturing south of the equator.

But try telling John Barclay that Scotland's two-week, two-Test jaunt to 2019 World Cup hosts Japan won't be a worthwhile experience.

"I love tours," says the Scarlets flanker. "They are great fun. You expose yourself to somewhere totally different, you are out of your comfort zone.

"I am really excited about going. Someone said to me 'you must be dreading it' but I can't wait.

"You tour other places fairly consistently and playing in the Pro 12, you go to the same places year in, year out.

"So I am really excited about going somewhere where the culture is different, and where rugby is really taking off."

Spending his early years in Hong Kong and Malaysia, Barclay has some grasp of the Far East, but his only previous rugby experiences in Japan came in school tournaments with Dollar Academy.

"I've been twice before, but I can't even remember where we went to be honest. It was the middle of nowhere."

His senior tours have been largely positive, bringing Test victories in Buenos Aires (2008), Tucuman and Mar del Plata (2010) in Argentina, Lautoka in Fiji (2012) and Newcastle, Australia (also in 2012).

John Barclay (right) celebrates with Scotland team-mates after their win in Australia in 2012
Barclay (right) has enjoyed some memorable tour wins, including this 2012 one over Australia

After 18 months in the international wilderness, and missing out on last year's World Cup despite impressing in two Tests leading up to it, perhaps Barclay, 29, is keen to make up for lost time.

Or maybe just the chance to catch up on some sleep.

With a six-week old baby and a three-year-old at home, Saturday's 14-hour flight to Tokyo offers the chance for some shut-eye, even if the players have been given a schedule detailing how much they are allowed to sleep in a bid to stave off jetlag on arrival.

"We will see who follows that!" he says. "There are a couple of guys who are a bit of a nuisance, but we get looked after really well and are lucky enough to fly business-class, so we get to walk around and have a bit of a chat."

Most pertinently perhaps, Barclay hasn't played a game for five weeks since Scarlets wrapped up their Pro 12 season on 7 May, having missed out on the play-offs.

Scotland's tour schedule
Sun 12 June:Arrive in Tokyo
Wed 15 June:Travel to Nagoya
Sat 18 June:1st Test v Japan, Toyota City 1920 KO (1120 BST)
Sun 19 June:Travel to Tokyo
Sat 25 June:2nd Test v Japan, Tokyo 1920 KO (1120 BST)
*Both Test matches live on BBC Scotland television & online

A fortnight off allowed him to belatedly shake off some niggling injuries that refused to go away while the season was still in its relentless grind.

"I feel like I have turned a corner with them now," he says. "It was good to freshen up a bit and just have a couple of weeks with the family, doing stuff away from rugby. It makes a big difference.

"I then spent a couple of weeks training on my own. I feel good, I feel rested, and I am raring to go."

Barclay may have earned his 50th cap in Scotland's final game of a Six Nations campaign in which he started every match.

But he has suffered enough slings and arrows of selectorial fortune in his nine-year Test career to take nothing for granted at this stage.

"I was a little bit apprehensive before the squad got named," he admits. "Vern [Cotter, Scotland's head coach] is not too fussed about dropping people if he thinks they are not playing well.

"So I really want to play in the first Test, enjoy the tour and hopefully come back with two wins and two starts for myself."

Not that Barclay thinks Japan represents an easy option, compared to the tours of Australia,New Zealand and South Africa that England, Wales and Ireland respectively are undertaking.

John Hardie carries the ball for Scotland against Japan
Scotland scored five second-half tries in their World Cup win over Japan last September

Scotland may have won all five previous Tests against the 'Brave Blossoms' and pulled away to win 45-10 at last year's World Cup.

But it was only a two-point game in Gloucester until Japan's talismanic number eight Amanaki Mafi departed injured early in the second half. And Japan had beaten South Africa four days earlier.

Barclay didn't play in that game, but 17 of the Scotland touring party did. And if they extricated themselves from a sticky situation with some sumptuous attacking rugby on that occasion, Barclay has a further warning of what may lie ahead.

"I spoke to a couple of the Welsh boys I play with at Scarlets who went there and got beat. [Japan beat a second-string Welsh side 23-8 in 2013].

"They said it was really tough conditions and a tough atmosphere, so we know it is going to be really tricky.

"If you beat South Africa, no matter when or how you play them, you are a pretty good team.

"Japan are a place below us in the world rankingsexternal-link so I am sure they will have a target on our heads and want to turn us over.

"Their game is very high tempo. Even the way they pass the ball is very quick. Everything they do is done quickly. It is obviously the way they approach their rugby - high energy, high speed."

Scotland have shown signs of a similarly slick, can-do style of rugby in the past 12 months.

This tour is a chance to cement that recent progression, while enjoying what else Japan has to offer.

Barclay, a lover of Japanese food, might even partake in a spot of karaoke, Japanese-style, if the opportunity arises.

"Mine's OK - average to good, I'd say," he reckons. "I'm sure we'll have a go at that as well."