With a match preview written and the teams duly picked over, it’s still somewhat surprising to consider just what a turnaround Wales have managed since the Autumn Internationals. Two away wins in a row, and with Scotland to come, it’s astonishing just what a couple of victories can do to a team, and providing confidence in bundle loads is just part of it.
Mike Phillips, Wales’ tenacious scrum half, has been quoted as saying Wales have their bounce back. Phillips himself has been through enough highs and lows with his national team that his words on Wales’ state of mind will be far more knowledgeable than most.
Dan Biggar,a rookie fly half in 6 Nations terms, has counterbalanced that with words of warning. Scotland are not to be underestimated. Wales can in no way let themselves get distracted by a potential Grand Slam spoiling match against England. Biggar himself has quietly gone about his job. A charge down in his first 6 Nations start but other than that costly blip, he’s slowly started to shine. His key decision against France and moments of individual brilliance versus Italy have quite literally been game changers. He will be hoping for more of the same this weekend.
Toby Faletau has been quoted in saying he is not quite happy with his form and that he knows he can play better. Coming from a player who has been one of the more solid no. 8’s in the tournament this comes as a surprise. The fact that at the very young age of 22 he acknowledges he needs to continuously improve, to better himself, to give more is in itself hugely pleasing. Faletau is one of Wales’ most dependable players. If he manages to step up from dependable to superb then that will be an even bigger boost for the men in red.
Indeed Faletau’s opposite number, Johnnie Beattie, is himself in a very rich vein of form. One of Scotland’s stand outs, he’s been great off the back of the scrum, leading with charging runs and putting in huge defensive efforts with his back row colleagues. If Wales fail to stifle him, they could be punished.
In what’s been a busy week with Wales’ players noting what they see as their faults, up steps George North to state how frustrated he’s been with Wales’ attacking play. Conceding that despite having two good wins, they haven’t been the best games to watch. North is intent on trying his best to put that right. In a back three with Halpfenny and Cuthbert, as strike runners they are all feared. Disappointingly we haven’t seen too much of them so far but if they manage to get things working against Scotland it could truly light the match up.
With Scotland having such a potent back three, it sets up a mouth- watering contest. Stuart Hogg as full back offers a different style of play to Leigh Halfpenny and how he attacks the line is a joy to behold. Both tipped as Lions tourists, the battle of the full backs is going to be one of the best on the pitch.
For Wales in recent times, Murrayfield has been a happy hunting ground, having only lost once there since 2007. Unlike the buoyant side of 2005 that tore into Scotland, this Wales team is a much more composed, bruising and disciplined prospect. Yet despite new found confidence, a warning bell still tolls.
Only a few scant months ago Wales were really struggling. It was only a matter of weeks ago that they were blown away by Ireland in the first half of the opening round. Wales has its weaknesses, and concentration is one of them. Any slight slip in their defensive line and Scotland are in the form to punish them. Keep their structure, use their big backline, and pin Scotland back; Wales could be on to a winner.
As the teams take to the pitch on Saturday, once of the best moments will be the rendition of Flower of Scotland by the sell-out Murrayfield crowd. As the music stops and all you can hear is the fine voices of thousands of Scotland fans, it’s one of the most magical moments of the tournament. It’s the perfect backdrop to what’s going to be an almighty contest. Ferocious packs and bruising backlines, yet both with a desire to run the ball; this game has the potential to be one of the best yet.
This entry was written for the Scottish Rugby Blog here: http://www.scottishrugbyblog.co.uk/2013/03/what-a-difference-a-couple-of-wins-can-make/