Wales face their third match in a row on the road, and it is the daunting task of taking on a Scotland side that is brimming with new found confidence. It was a win against the odds versus Ireland combined with a gritty and inspiring defensive display that will give Scotland great heart going forward.
Wales travel to Murrayfield with confidence of their own after hard fought wins against France and Italy. Whilst they weren’t the most spectacular of victories, the incredible solid defence it was built on, and their backline starting to factor more in their matches, it should be a warning to their Scottish rivals that they will have to play at their best if they want to win.
Wales make only a small handful of changes to take on Scotland. James replaces the injured Jenkins in the front row whilst Jones and Warburton come in to replace Coombs and Tipuric respectively who are forced to be content with bench spots. It is a positive for Wales that they were such hard decisions to make as to who should start and who should be left on the bench, yet all four players can do an excellent job.
The backline remains unchanged and it should be a key point for Howley’s men that they need to work themselves into better attacking positions. Whilst defensively the backline is now working extremely well, given the talent at hand their angles of running and support play, as well as offloading, needs to be improved on. If Wales get anywhere near the level of possession that Ireland did against Scotland, it would be difficult to see that their more direct runners would squander the chances that the Irish did.
The Scottish midfield was perhaps the one defensive weakness in their display against Ireland. With the experienced winger Lamont having been moved to centre, gaps often appeared in the midfield and if players such as Roberts and Davies can work hole’s or deliver a pass to set North or Cuthbert through the gap then Scotland could be in trouble.
Scotland themselves make only a few changes to their team. Murray comes back in to the front row, knowing that he will have to put in a big performance to counter Cross’ impressive display against Ireland. Weir is handed his first start at fly half, having made a hugely positive contribution in his substitution appearance in the last round. He will also help shore up Scotland’s defence in midfield, something that head coach Scott Johnson will have undoubtedly have been working on in preparation for Wales’ big runners.
In contrast to previous years’ form, Scotland are currently the top try scorers in this year’s 6 Nations. Give them a sniff of a chance and their back three are hugely dangerous and it is something Wales will have to be weary of. Where they haven’t impressed as much recently is at the breakdown, and Wales will be hoping the return of Sam Warburton will give them the edge here. Warburton has not been given the captaincy back on his return, with fellow back rower Ryan Jones keeping the arm band, yet this must be an opportunity for him to get back to his best. His replacement Justin Tipuric has been solid if not spectacular, yet Warburton will have to work very hard to prove he is worthy of a starting spot.
With both sides full of confidence, backed by hard earned wins, it sets up what is looking to be an excellent spectacle. Along with England, these two teams are the only ones still in the running for a chance to win the championship, which makes a victory this weekend all the more important.
Set piece and defences are likely to rule. If Hamilton can produce another strong display in the lineout then Scotland might be able to disrupt Welsh possession enough to prevent them from unleashing their backline. If Wales’ concentration slips and they give Scotland too much time on the ball, with such a tactical kicker at 10 and such dangerous runners in their back three, then they could see themselves in a world of trouble.
As ever, both sides will be desperate for a win. Scotland have the home advantage and Wales perhaps the more dangerous team overall. Taking stock of all the factors though, these are two fairly evenly matched teams, and the 80 minutes to decide who is to be the victor are without a doubt going to be fascinating.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert , Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, Ryan Jones (capt), Sam Warburton,Toby Faletau .
Replacements: Ken Owens, Scott Andrews ,Ryan Bevington, Andrew Coombs, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Robert Harley, Kelly Brown, Johnnie Beattie
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Geoff Cross, Alastair Kellock, Ryan Wilson, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Max Evans