Ireland will go into Sunday’s World Cup opening weekend clash against Scotland as clear favourites. The men from the Emerald Isle are currently the world’s top ranked team and have come out on top in six of the last seven meetings between the two sides, so they are absolutely entitled to top billing. But it is all water off a duck’s back to veteran flanker John Barclay, who got his first taste of international rugby back in 2007 and has been around the block, and through the mill, enough times to shrug off the pre-match hype.

“We don’t pay too much attention to what’s going on outside our camp,” he stated. “I can imagine Ireland will be favourite and that sort of suits us, it’s fine. At the end we’ll play and after 80 minutes we’ll find who wins. All the stuff before that is water under the bridge.”

Ireland are renowned for their physicality, but Barclay says he is confident that Joe Schmidt’s men won’t offer up anything in that regard that Scotland can’t handle.

“I think the way they play the game there’s more contacts around that area for the forwards, but I don’t think it’s necessarily more physical, it’s just that there’s more of it for us to deal with,” he explained. “Normally when we play them the tackle stats for the forwards are in the high 20s, which is pretty full-on, but that’s the way they play the game.”

Scotland are not getting too worked up worrying about what their opponents might do, Barclay added. The focus at this late stage of the build-up has to be internal and on getting your own performance right.

“We play them enough in the league and in Europe and with Scotland, so we know to an extent what’s coming – lots of route one plays with intricacies around that. We’ve done the analysis, but you don’t know what in the warm up games is smoke and mirrors. Most teams will have held stuff back. So, we’ve looked at them but now we’ll focus on ourselves from now until the game.”

While Barclay was a near certain pick for this game at blindside, his back-row accomplice Ryan Wilson was not quite a stick-on, with most pundits and punters anticipating that head coach Gregor Townsend would opt for the more athletic but significantly less experienced Blade Thomson at No 8. However, Barclay reckons that he, Wilson and open-side flanker Hamish Watson bring a good balance to the side – and he believes that they make up for any lack of bulk in work-rate and dynamism.

“We’ve played together last few years, whenever I’ve been fit it seems to be the three of us [who get picked],” said the veteran flanker, who celebrates his 33rd birthday two days after the Ireland game. “Hamish has really come on to his game in the last season and taken it to another level – he’s very abrasive with the ball. You see how he runs and you don’t think he’s going to be able to do what he does. He’s also strong over ball.

“With Ryan you know what you get, he’s physical, he’s confrontational and a very good line-out forward. I think rugby’s a simple game, but the simple things are undervalued, like that physicality and being abrasive. Teams and individuals are so well conditioned now, you get a lot of … not clones … but certain positions are profiled into certain players.

“He’s not the biggest No 8 and Hamish isn’t the biggest either. Maybe there’s a bit of an obsession with big, heavy No 8s or whatever. You look at Hamish, just over 100 kilos but he can run through people like nobody else I’ve seen at that sort of weight. I’d rather someone who is a bit lighter and can give you the full 80.”

Meanwhile, Sean Maitland has backed his Saracens clubmate Duncan Taylor to seize his moment after an injury-ravaged couple of years. The centre played around 130 minutes during Scotland’s World Cup matches as he felt his way back to match sharpness following a badly damaged knee suffered at the start of last season, but Sunday will bring a step-change in terms of intensity

“Fair play to him after what he's been through – to get through all of that and to be starting in the World Cup is incredible, no-one would have given him a chance of that after smashing every ligament in his knee,” said the Maitland. "He's in good form and is looking fit, we all know what he can do.

“The whole club at Sarries rallied behind him [during his injury troubles]. It's been a tough old couple of years for him. It's our first game together for probably two years, but I've been rooming with him for three months now and we've got a good old vibe happening in the room. I'm just stoked to now be sharing the field with him.”

The Kiwi-born winger added that his and Taylor’s Saracens influence provide an edge that could help see Scotland through when the going gets tough. The English club have a famously competitive community of spirit which has driven them to become the dominant side in European club rugby in recent years.

“I guess there are parts of our game that we pride ourselves on such as the kick-chase, that are little things that people probably don't see on the television or when they go to a game,” he said. “We've just been trying to bring that extra five percent, that extra edge, maybe where we're trying to get up off the line and bang boys. DT [Taylor] is a real leader in our defence and that's something we really pride ourselves on at Sarries.”