John Barclay says Ireland won’t know what hit them when they face Scotland in the World Cup opener — because Gregor Townsend’s own players don’t know what’s coming.
The veteran back row, playing in his third World Cup, says the Scots have more talent in this year’s squad than ever before.
And with the adventurous head coach Gregor Townsend in charge, they’re ready to cause a shock or two in the far east.
“We’re not blessed with loads of huge, enormous men, so we play how we play,” Barclay said.
“I don’t know what the coaches are thinking — would they show their hands at the Six Nations with a World Cup around the corner?
A lot can change, we could be going blind into that first game. We’re always trying to mix up our game plays, it’s constant innovation with Gregor, I’ve never been used to that before, he’s always trying to challenge the players to change things.”
Scotland had a disappointing Six Nations, losing at home to Wales and Ireland and to France in Paris, but their final game in Twickenham was a memorable one for many reasons.
Trailing 31-0, they scored six tries to lead 38-31 with five minutes remaining — only for George Ford to score a leveler with the final play.
The six tries were the most Scotland have ever scored in London, and the draw helped them retain the Calcutta Cup for the first time since 1984.
“We were pretty disappointed with the Six Nations because we showed only glimpses of what we could do,” Barclay said.
“To score 38 points in the second half of that England game was just crazy.
“I think we did a lot of good stuff, but too many of the scores we conceded were soft tries, we gave them up too easily.
"I think we have that now with Finn [Russell], [Stuart] Hogg, Sam Johnson has burst on the scene, Blair Kinghorn, Sean Maitland — there is quality there. We just need to learn those lessons and play in the right areas.”
Scotland travel east with little expectation, but some still think the squad Townsend has at his disposal is the best the nation has ever had.
“There’s a lot of talent, but everyone thinks it’s the ‘strongest squad’ when you’re in it,” Barclay argued.
“It’s only with the benefit on hindsight that you know.
“But I’ve not played in that many squads that has the world class talent we have in there now.
“Finn is one of the best out halves in the world, Hogg was twice Six Nations player of the year, then you have guys like Sean Maitland who is starting for Sarries every week, so there’s a lot of talent there.”
Ireland are first up for Scotland in Yokohama in 11 days’ time, with their Pool rounded off with a potentially dicey clash with the hosts.
Barclay toured Japan with Scotland in 2016, and knows what Jamie Joseph’s side can offer, but he’s not looking past the opening day clash with Ireland that could define their tournament.
“I don’t know if it’s good or bad to have Ireland first, you just have to deal with what’s in your pool I guess,” he said.
“In saying that, it’s one thing knowing that and another dealing with it and negating their threat.
“They’re full of guys who play big games all the time, and the thing with Ireland is if you let them get ahead, they’re hard to play against.
"They’ve guys who manage the game so well; Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, you don’t get better guys to keep putting the ball behind you and you’ve got to chase the game, that’s pretty tricky against this team.”