Scotland v Wales - teams and prediction
ROUND TWO PREVIEW: Scotland heads into their match against Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday determined to avoid a repeat of the second-round stumbles that have so often proved costly to their Six Nations hopes.
Gregor Townsend’s men launched their campaign with a dramatic 29-23 win away to England last week as they recorded a third successive Calcutta Cup victory over their oldest rivals.
Scotland, however, last posted wins in the opening two rounds of the tournament in 1996 – when the Championship was still the Five Nations.
They twice lost narrowly to Wales – hammered 34-10 by Ireland in Cardiff last weekend – on the second week in each of the past two years.
Wales also have an excellent record in Edinburgh, having won on six of their past seven trips to Murrayfield.
But while Scotland boss Townsend has recalled fit-again prop Zander Fagerson in the only change to his starting XV, Warren Gatland has five new players in his pack, as well as a positional switch, after a second stint as Wales coach started with the thumping defeat by Ireland.
Scotland, after Duhan van der Merwe’s brilliant solo try, found themselves eight points down in the second half against England before the wing capped a fine team move to cross the line again for his decisive second score six minutes from full-time.
Gatland, never shy of putting pre-match pressure on his opponents, said: “I think it is the strongest Scottish side I have seen for a number of years in terms of the depth they have got.”
Townsend was well aware of Scotland’s need to build on their Twickenham triumph.
“We have to improve from what we did last week because in large parts of that game, we weren’t at our best,” he said.
“The good thing was we took our opportunities and we showed resilience into that final quarter and that makes us tough to beat. But we’re not at our potential, and that’s what we’re striving towards.”
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‘Russell’s incredible balance’
Scotland flyhalf Finn Russell repeatedly posed problems for England and helped launch the move that led to Van der Merwe’s match-winning try with a typically quick and precise pass.
Gatland took Russell on the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, keeping faith with the Racing 92 flyhalf through injury and rewarding him with an appearance off the bench in the final Test.
It was only when the Scot was on the field that many observers felt the combined side played their best rugby in a one-two series loss to the world champion Springboks.
Gatland said Russell’s improved judgement meant he was now far more than a “maverick” performer.
“I just think with that maturity in his game management, what he’s learned in his attacking game and kicking game, I think he’s got an incredible balance,” the New Zealander explained.
“What I love about him is that he plays with a smile on his face. He’s pretty relaxed in the way that he plays. He’s on top of his form and he was excellent for them [Scotland] last week.”
Gatland has dropped veteran forwards Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric completely, bringing in the Exeter duo of Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza, with Taulupe Faletau demoted to the bench as Wales look to bolster their line-out and revitalised the pack seven months out from the World Cup in France.
“We have got a huge disparity between those experienced players with the number of caps they’ve got, and a lot of incredibly talented youngsters with a limited number of caps,” said Gatland. “We just need to find that balance.”
Townsend added: “These players they [Wales] have brought in are players in form…They’ve picked a team that is going to come after us.”
Saturday’s match promises to be an especially emotional occasion as it will be the first time the teams have played for the Doddie Weir Cup since the former Scotland lock died aged 52 in November following several years suffering from Motor Neurone Disease.
Players to watch
For Scotland: The team shows just one change from last week’s victorious combination against England – fit-again prop Zander Fagerson, sidelined for more than two months with a hamstring injury, comes in for South African Willem Nel. The key backline players are fullback Stuart Hogg, along with wings Kyle Steyn and Duhan van der Merwe. Flyhalf Finn Russell, if he pulls the strings as he did last week, could cause Wales nightmares.
For Wales: The decision to axe internationals Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric may just be what’s needed to spark some life into an apathetic Welsh team. No. 8 Taulupe Faletau was also dropped to the bench – a combined 342 Wales caps and 18 British and Irish Lions caps removed from the starting XV. Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins has replaced Jones, with club colleague Christ Tshiunza packing down at blindside flank in a reshaped back row – where Leicester’s Tommy Reffell is at openside flank, with Jac Morgan moved to No.8 instead of Faletau.
Head to head
@rugby365com: Scotland by eight points
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 WP Nel, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 George Horne, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Harris.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Josh Adams, 13 George North, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Jac Morgan, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Christ Tshiunza, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Dafydd Jenkins, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Rhys Davies, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Alex Cuthbert.
Date: Saturday, February 11:
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Periodical bursts of sun, with a very small chance of precipitation – less than 10 percent. High of 10°C, low of 6°C
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)