Scotland v Wales - Teams and Predictions
SIX NATIONS, ROUND TWO: Scotland host Wales in the Six Nations on Saturday, a week after both made winning starts with victories over 2020 champions England and Ireland respectively.
Scotland have the perfect launchpad in the immense win over England to challenge for a title that has eluded them since Italy came on board in 2000 to make it the Six Nations.
The Scots won the final Five Nations title in 1999, but have on four occasions ended up with the unwanted Six Nations wooden spoon.
Ordinarily, they should fancy their chances of beating a Wales side that scrapped their way to a 21-16 win over an Irish team reduced to 14 men after only 14 minutes.
The Welsh have been decimated by injuries to key players such as centre George North, but they still have plenty of experience in the team.
No matter the manner of the win over the Irish, it will have given them a much-needed morale boost following a tough 2020.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is too canny an operator to make himself a hostage to fortune, regarding this the year the Scots can end their title drought.
The former Scotland playmaker says his team need to be more clinical than they were against the English.
He for one, though, does not expect a repeat of the limp performance the Welsh put up in last year’s Six Nations clash when the Scots beat them in Cardiff.
“I thought they [Wales] played really well last week, they had some experienced players back in the mix, and they have the confidence of an opening win,” said Townsend.
*Article continues below…
Biggar challenge for Russell
The match could hinge on who performs better at flyhalf, and it should be quite a contest between the hosts’ mercurial Finn Russell and Wales’ battle-hardened Dan Biggar.
Russell will provide the frills, Biggar reliable solidity. However, if Russell lapses as he did against England and is sin-binned, Biggar will hope to be more effective than Owen Farrell was in punishing the Scots.
Russell will also be in foreign territory, in that Scotland will be the favourites and that exerts a different type of pressure.
The Welsh might be well-advised to watch a replay of last year’s European Cup final when the key to Exeter’s win over Racing 92 was the outstanding job they did in nullifying Russell and his box of tricks – picking off one of his passes to run in a score.
Biggar, for his part, is unlikely to try anything audacious, especially as his spot is coming under threat from Callum Sheedy, who head coach Wayne Pivac admires and refers to like having “a coach on the pitch”.
There is the added prize that whoever emerges victorious from the encounter will give their chances of being selected in the British & Irish Lions squad a huge boost and may at the same time have ended the hopes of their opponent.
*Article continues below…
Welsh jumpers unravelling
Key to giving Russell enough ball to play with will be the service from the line-out. The Scots will fancy their chances of having the lion’s share based on the respective performances in the first games.
The Welsh line-out is proving to be a problem area as they have lost 27 on their own throw in their past eight Tests, including four against the Irish.
“Clearly it’s definitely a work-on for us,” said head coach Pivac.
“It’s a source of possession for us, we need to get well into the 90s if not 100 percent at our lineout.
“We need to go away and keep working hard at that and get some answers for next Saturday.”
Giant lock Adam Beard says several different hookers being selected as starter has not helped and adds, as the caller, it is essential he remains calm.
“If you over-think, it can get you in trouble,” he said. “Sometimes it’s about going back to basics, picking a banker ball and going from there.”
Players to watch
For Scotland: Scarlets back-row Blade Thomson and Harlequins centre James Lang come into the starting XV, as does Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham. All three played in the last meeting between the two nations when Scotland beat Wales in Llanelli in October in the concluding round of the 2020 Six Nations competition. Captain Stuart Hogg continues at fullback following his ‘Man of the Match’ performance in the Calcutta Cup win and he is joined in the back-three by Edinburgh pair Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham.Hamish Watson (Scotland), the third highest scoring Scot on the opening weekend, enjoyed a stellar performance in his side’s statement Calcutta Cup win. The 29-year-old was a presence with and without the ball, making ten tackles to deny Eddie Jones’ side a sniff while also making 52 metres with ball in hand.
For Wales: Gareth Davies comes into the starting XV to partner Dan Biggar. Nick Tompkins and Owen Watkin form a new-look midfield with Liam Williams returning to the side to line-up alongside Louis Rees-Zammit and Leigh Halfpenny. Wales have named the same front-five that featured last weekend as they look too dominated upfront – with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis forming the front row. Justin Tipuric continues to shine even at the more advanced age of 31. He delivered yet another brilliant showing as he made 29 tackles and 29 metres with the ball against Ireland.
Head to head:
Top of the list is the flyhalf battle – Finn Russell of Scotland versus Dan Biggar of Wales. The mercurial Russell will provide all the frills and unpredictability against the battle-hardened and reliable Biggar. The two kickers will be helped by their respective fullback, Scotland’s Stuart Hogg and Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny, who both boast with an impressive boot.
@rugby365com: Scotland by five points
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 James Lang, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Gary Graham, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Huw Jones.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 James Botham, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Uilisi Halaholo.
Date: Saturday, February 13
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Cloudy and moderate breeze with no chance of rain. High of 0°C and a low of -2°C
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Karl Dickson (England)
AFP & Rugby365