Six Nations: John Barclay proud to lead Scotland against Wales

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
John Barclay will lead Scotland against Wales on Saturday
Barclay will lead Scotland from the start for the first time
Six Nations: Scotland v Wales
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh Date: Saturday, 25 February Kick-off: 14:25 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, S4C, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary

John Barclay has spoken of his pride in being named captain of Scotland against Wales on Saturday at Murrayfield.

It'll be the fourth time that the flanker has led his country but on all three previous occasions, the most recent being a brief stint in Paris a fortnight ago, he was given the job mid-match.

"It's a huge honour," said the blindside, who knows more about this weekend's opponents than any Scot given he plays with some of the Welsh team at the Scarlets in Llanelli. "It's a proud day for me and my family.

"I've been texting Greig (Laidlaw, his injured predecessor) and will ring him later to have a chat. I can't try and be like Greig as captain but since Monday (he found out he was going to be captain on Sunday) I realised just how much stuff Greig does in addition to what you guys see and even in addition to what I saw as a player in the squad.

"It's opened my eyes a little bit to see the influence he's had behind the scenes."

Barclay wanted to play down all talk of a redemption story, but it was hard to avoid it. He was not on Scotland's radar a few years back despite repeated eulogies from supporters of Llanelli. He failed to make the World Cup squad in 2015 and admitted to feeling that he thought his international career might be over.

He had a fine autumn series but then failed to make the starting line-up for the win against Ireland in the opening round of the Six Nations. His appearance off the bench was deeply impressive, though, and now he's been elevated to the highest office.

"It was a pretty easy decision," said Scotland coach, Vern Cotter. "All we had to do was wait to make sure that his shoulder was OK (after his injury in Paris). He knows how to talk to referees. Captaincy is something that comes naturally to him, he doesn't have to force it. And he's respected by the players."

Familiar foes for the day

The funny irony of the captaincy happening against Wales is not lost on him.

Barclay has thrived playing his club rugby with the Scarlets and his young son goes to a Welsh language pre-school. Earlier this month, Barclay spoke about how he sometimes records his son talking his few words of Welsh and then gets Ken Owens and Scott Williams - two of Barclay's team-mates for the Scarlets and two of his rivals on Saturday - to translate.

There are six Scarlets in the Welsh team for Saturday plus another two on the bench.

Scotland flanker John Hardie
Hardie has managed just four minutes of action in this year's Six Nations

Cotter made five changes from the game in Paris, three for them forced upon him through injuries to Laidlaw, Sean Maitland and Josh Strauss. Ali Price gets his third cap, and his first start, at scrum-half, Tim Visser goes on to the wing instead of Maitland, who was injured playing for Saracens at the weekend, and Ryan Wilson comes back in for the stricken Strauss.

Gordon Reid replaces Allan Dell at loosehead to make it an all-Glasgow front-row and John Hardie comes in for Hamish Watson at openside. Watson is unlucky. Part of the reason why Hardie is in is to help combat Wales' fantastic strength at the breakdown through Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton, but there is also another reason.

Hardie is prone to injury. He came on as a substitute in Paris and had to go off again soon after. Cotter wants to avoid a similar disruption if Hardie gets injured off the bench for a second game running.

He knows he has the more durable Watson lying in wait once Hardie empties his tanks. Watson, too, is well capable of making life hard for Wales on the floor.

Cotter is always highlighting the need for a strong bench. The Edinburgh flanker will still have a huge role to play on Saturday.

Stern test for Scottish scrum

"Wales are a bigger team, they are the team with the most test caps in the Six Nations," said the coach. "They are very experienced and they are powerful. Most teams look at Scotland and believe they can overpower the forward pack.

Vern Cotter and John Barclay
Cotter (right) said choosing his captain for Saturday was "pretty easy"

"France are a big, powerful team at home and in the last 15 minutes of the game we were under pressure due to their physicality. Wales will have done their analysis and looked at that but we believe we have improved."

Reid's inclusion is an interesting one. Scotland's scrum has been trounced in the opening two games and they now have a reputation as an inferior unit in the eyes of referees. The fear is that when a scrum collapses, Scotland are going to come off the wrong end of a 50-50 call given the torrent of scrum penalties they gave away in Paris.

"The scrums where we've had to dig in we've done all right," said Cotter. "We've done that under the posts against both Ireland and France where the scrum didn't move at all. We don't believe we have an inferior scrum. The scrum maybe lacks a little experience, but these guys are making up for that with the work they're putting in. We're very confident the scrum will perform this weekend and put Wales under pressure."

Barclay spoke of the burden of expectation on Wales from their own people. "Living in Wales, I know what rugby means there and I know the pressures they are under. There's always huge pressure on them to win.

"People told me about it but I thought it was half in jest, but if you walk down the street people will talk to you about it every time. It's full-on rugby in Wales. Winning is everything."

Their adopted son is now leading the charge against them.