Enjoying The Game In Glasgow

As I spoke to John Barclay this afternoon there was something fairly evident: rugby is the thing he wants to talk about. As he is sucked into the centre of a maelstrom, and the fans whip and spin around him, he displays a singular focus. All the talk may be about contracts, but the flanker’s attention is drawn to the cynosure of contact.

“I try not to pay attention to the talk,” he tells me when I bring up the number of £300k and Richie Gray’s departure plans. “Richie is an intelligent guy. He made the decision he thought was best for him. I am going to do what is right for me.

“After the World Cup I knew that my contract was soon to be up. I’m not thinking about that just now, though. I just wanted to start playing with the boys [at Glasgow] again. I just want to play rugby.”

The hard-working 7, known for his collision skills but also his ability to attach himself to the end of an offload, is aware of his context. Of course he is. He chooses, however, to rise above it. At least for the time being. With this approach we must applaud his sense of timing, unlike those in Sale Sharks’ PR team.

With the figure of £300k being floated in the press and not being rebuked by the SRU it has grown in significance. Maybe the Union want us to know they are willing to spend cash on players. Maybe they want us all to know that if a quality player –any quality player – needed money to convince them to play in Scotland, the money would be made available. Again, maybe not. It is irrelevant because as I prod Barclay with a question of whether or not that figure has added to the pressure on him to re-sign with Glasgow he fixes me the line “we don’t play rugby for the money, we play rugby because we love it.”

This answer serves two purposes. Firstly, it lets me know he is not thinking about the cash. Secondly, this answer pre-emptively suggests that if he were to leave it would be for rugby reasons.

He reveals to me that he met with Andy Robinson last night. “We had not spoken since the World Cup and since my holiday. It was a debriefing. He does agree with me, though, that it is important to enjoy my rugby.”

I find this hard to believe that that is all they were talking about, particularly with the abrupt announcement of Richie Gray’s contract situation. He made a point of telling me about the meeting, after all. So I ask him again. I could almost sense him fighting a little smile. “As I said, it is just about enjoying rugby again. It was just a catch-up.”

Could he continue to improve if he were to stay at the Warriors, though?

“Of course. I think it is an exciting time in Scotland with [Mark] Dodson coming in. It has taken a long time for this change to happen,” that hint of a smile again: “I maybe wish it had happened earlier. The World Cup was disappointing and we didn’t play particularly well in our four games, but you can’t make excuses. You just come back and try to have fun.”

Fun is something Glasgow certainly seem to be having. They are 4th in the RaboDirect PRO12 and have won five games. Three of those wins were away from home. The last two wins had Barclay in the squad.

“Am I Glasgow’s lucky charm? Look, the boys had been up against it, especially because of our squad size, and the younger guys have really stepped up. With eleven missing we got some results away from home.

“I’ve never beaten Leinster away, but the boys did. We got a bonus in Cardiff. If it wasn’t for a kick we would have beaten Treviso.

“We enjoy playing away from home. I was looking at Saracens in the Aviva Premiership and they have the best away record. They don’t have a huge home support and so enjoy the challenge of playing away. We don’t have a huge home crowd ourselves so when we go away we relish the bigger occasion.”

On Sunday, as Bath visit in the first Heineken Cup game of the season, Glasgow face a big occasion regardless of where it is and with the European stage being the most intensely fought and with Glasgow looking to progress past the group stages for the first time in their history Barclay concedes that Firhill may well be the perfect place to start.

“It is nice to have the home comforts,” he accepts. “It should be interesting for me to play the likes of Francois [Louw], who I’ve never played against, but seen plenty of. It should also be good to play Simon [Taylor].

“I watched Simon a lot when I was younger, but as I came up some people were saying he was past it. After playing with and against him, though, I can say that he is one of the best I have ever played with. Speaking to a few guys down South they have also said he was Bath’s best player last season.”

And what about this ‘Geech Factor’ everyone has been talking about?

“I hadn’t even thought about it until you mentioned it! He [Sir Ian McGeechan] has earned a lot of respect and his reputation probably goes before him. I’ve never played under him so I don’t know too much about it. It is a cliché, but you can only focus on this game and the guys on the pitch. We are certainly looking for a win here, because if you don’t win your first game the rest get so much harder.”

It certainly seems that this young man knows what is expected of him. He knows what is ahead. He wants to enjoy a bit more rugby, and that involves locking horns with an English side this weekend. He is determined, I’ll give him that. As we wrapped things up I asked him about image rights and the power of the spotlight. He claims he does not stand out as much as someone like Richie Gray and if he were to stay at Glasgow he wouldn’t go looking for that sort of attention. We both laugh at his modesty, and then we both hang up.

He doesn’t want to talk about contracts, money and the spotlight. He wants to get the rugby out of the way first.

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.