By Alan Dymock
NO ONE in the Scotland camp would ever say it, but they fear Wales running.
Picking Duncan Weir at fly-half for the game at Murrayfield on Saturday could be seen as the result of a middle-of-the-road performance from Ruaridh Jackson, but in truth Weir’s selection is one designed to take the steam out of a Welsh side capable of singeing Scotland.
This is not a defensive concept. Sure, in the last round simple cut moves allowed a fresh-faced Luke Marshall to gallop past Jackson more than once, with flimsy arms whipping off the Ulsterman as he burst through the thicket of defenders. Also, too often the Irish centre tasted fresh air, and the worry for Scots is that any Welsh player breaking through would be less profligate than the Irish were. Yet Jackson made some good tackles. He is not afraid to put his head down for a hit.
With Weir, though, there is not a worrying change in defence. It is in attack that everything differs.
The strength of the Welsh is that they can spring from loose play, jolting out of the back of the pitch and making astute plays whilst tumbling forward at extreme speed. They can build momentum and when they do so they are as exciting as any team on the planet. Once they peel round the corners in their units and make yards it takes smart, aggressive defenders to halt them or pick their pockets.
So with Jackson, he can take interceptions and he can whack well enough, but he can also struggle to kick cleanly for distance. Weir, on the other hand, can slide balls into touch and has more range. He can skip and interest defenders, too, and when he came on against Ireland he wrong-footed a few opponents.
This is not to say that Jackson cannot play to a kicking remit, but against Ireland the constancy of Ireland attacks was not helped by aimless kicking in front of Rob Kearney and Paddy Jackson. Weir is likely to be asked to break up play and starve Wales of a rhythm.
The lineout will be interesting because of this. Alun Wyn Jones returns and Richard Hibbard has grown in stature, but Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton in particular have done well to disrupt opposition throws. Dean Ryan will fancy his pack to pick off a few balls.
Wales are chasing a record five away wins in a row in the 6 Nations. That makes them dangerous and Scott Johnson will know that his counterparts need to have confidence taken away from them. That does not mean openly attack them with verbal jousting, although there is still time for Johnson to do that he is playing it coy just now. Instead it would serve Scotland to let Wales approach the games like the others, hoping that their main focus is blasting the team in blue at the breakdown.
This is still an area where games can be decided and Scotland have been brittle there, even if their fortunes have changed. So it is wise of the Scots to talk about this repeatedly, letting both packs know that they need to wrestle. However, with Weir holding the rudder it is likely that the ball could be going over everyone’s head and the wrestle relocated to the touchline.
Catching everyone off guard may be exactly why Weir is there. He needs to get the rest of his mates on side and hope that he can plug the defensive gap as well. After all, there are some sizeable predators in red.