By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
TWO YEARS ago this fixture delivered arguably the most dramatic finish in any Six Nations match, Shane Williams’s last-minute try securing a 31-24 win for a Welsh side that had been trailing by ten points with just 12 minutes to go.
Williams has now hung up his international boots, so there will be no repeat this weekend – but what can we expect in Cardiff? Scotland are coming off the back of a disappointing defeat to England while Wales produced an impressive win in Dublin on Sunday afternoon. Let’s analyse the key areas…
Scotland dominated possession and territory against England, made three times as many line breaks as their opponents and produced an incredible 238 passes compared to England’s 72 – but they still couldn’t score a try. They blew chances when they stuck to set moves rather than reacting to the defensive alignment facing them.
Greig Laidlaw has been brought in at fly-half to replace Dan Parks, who retired in the wake of the England defeat. He has been a key component in Edinburgh’s attacking game this season so will be looking to get the Scottish back-line moving in the same way. Whether they can break through Wales’ giant backs, however, remains to be seen.
Some of the moves Wales produced against Ireland were sublime. Rhys Priestland times his passes to perfection and knows when to bring Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies onto the ball at pace while George North – a rare breed of raw power and deft skills – can cause problems for any opponents, particularly when brought into the action in midfield. Scotland will need to close these carriers down early on or Wales could build an unstoppable momentum.
Parks’s kicking out of hand at Murrayfield made life too easy for England because they had to much time to deal with them. Laidlaw will want to avoid the same mistakes in Cardiff and is likely to keep the ball in hand more.
Priestland also put in a couple of poor kicks against Ireland. If teams want to chip behind the defensive line or kick long, the chase has to be good – there’s no point hanging back as this simply releases the pressure on the defenders. It’s good that Priestland mixes up the attack with kicks, but he needs his team-mates to react quicker and chase better.
Richie Gray, Ross Rennie and, particularly, David Denton all made an impact for Scotland with ball in hand, but the team need to capitalise on their yardage gains if they’re to win this game.
Wales will want Toby Faletau to match Denton as a carrier and Gethin Jenkins is sure to be a regular option close to rucks, as Rhys Gill was last weekend. Crucially, though, Wales need Ryan Jones to get the ball in hand. He played a big role in Dublin and needs to be just as involved this weekend, even though he’s been moved forward into the second row.
Wales lineout creaked significantly against Ireland and the Scots will be looking to gain an advantage in this area. Gray and Jim Hamilton will disrupt, if not outright steal, Wales’ ball if the men in red are off-target again – a situation that won’t be helped by a lack of continuity, Jones coming in for the suspended Bradley Davies.
The scrum, however, is likely to go Wales’ way. Gethin Jenkins is back in harness and with Euan Murray unavailable because of his religious beliefs, Wales will be targeting Geoff Cross on the tighthead. Get a good platform here and Mike Phillips will be able to unleash that giant back-line.
VERDICT: I think we’ll see a lot of running rugby from both sides, but I’m plumping for Wales to win by seven.
WALES v SCOTLAND, MILLENNIUM STADIUM, SUNDAY 12 FEBRUARY, Kick-off 3pm, Live on BBC1
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Ryan Jones, Ian Evans, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (capt), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Paul James, Lou Reed, Andy Powell, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams.
Scotland: Rory Lamont; Lee Jones, Nick de Luca, Sean Lamont, Max Evans; Greig Laidlaw, Chris Cusiter; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford (capt), Geoff Cross, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Alasdair Strokosch, Ross Rennie, David Denton.
Replacements: Scott Lawson, Ed Kalman, Alastair Kellock, John Barclay, Mike Blair, Duncan Weir, Stuart Hogg.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)