By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium Date: Saturday, 12 February Kick-off: 1700 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One from 1635, and on the Red Button and online; listen on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles. Also broadcast on BBC America.
Both teams lost in the opening round of the Six Nations, Wales falling at home 26-19 to England while Scotland were defeated 34-21 to France in Paris. So who will notch their first win of the championship in Edinburgh on Saturday evening? Here’s analysis of the key areas…
Scotland were totally overpowered by France so will be fired up to prove themselves. Wales held their own against a much-vaunted England pack and need to do the same in Murrayfield. Paul James will want to cause Euan Murray similar problems to those experienced in Paris last weekend and it’s sure to be a tight contest. Honours even.
Two blond locks have been making headlines with both their ball-carrying skills and their work-rate around the pitch, but Bradley Davies, of Wales, and Scotland’s Richie Gray need to earn their bread and butter at lineout time too.The lineouts of both teams came off second best in the opening round of matches last weekend and Ross Ford can’t afford to overthrow as he did at the Stade de France or Wales will pounce. Both set-piece units have room for improvement and Wales might just edge this battle in Edinburgh.
John Barclay is a master at the breakdown – Stuart Barnes says he’s the best No 7 in the northern hemisphere – and he’ll want to turnover plenty of Wales ball on Saturday, and perhaps even score as he did last year. Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate are hard workers themselves in this area and are improving in every game, but Barclay is likely to outplay them in this game. And Ross Rennie can do the same off the bench.
The Welsh public have their wish and James Hook starts at fly-half, but can he deliver? We all know how dangerous he is a runner on the gain-line but he needs to prove he can control a game and spot opportunities out wide as well as those in front of him. If he can do that he’ll cause the Scots problems and put his team-mates, as well as himself, into space. There’s no doubt Dan Parks can control a game and he’ll be looking to put Scotland in the right areas with his boots, but if Hook can allay substance to his style Wales will win the battle of the No 10s.
On paper Wales have more creativity than the Scots, but it was the men in blue who scored more tries last weekend and their backs ran some great angles. If Wales are to convert more pressure into points they need Jamie Roberts to get his hands on the ball and they can’t kick the ball away as much as they did against England. And Scotland can’t afford to cough up as much possession as they did in Paris because Wales can be as dangerous on the counter-attack as the French.
Both Hugo Southwell and Lee Byrne are solid under the high ball and have a good kicking game – they’re the proverbial safe pair of hands. But Byrne is the more exciting runner and cuts great angles – he needs to quickly rediscover his best form to bring more direction to Wales’ attack.
SCOTLAND: Hugo Southwell; Nikki Walker, Joe Ansbro, Nick De Luca, Max Evans; Dan Parks, Rory Lawson; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Alastair Kellock (capt), Nathan Hines, John Barclay, Kelly Brown.
Replacements: Scott Lawson, Moray Low, Richie Vernon, Ross Rennie, Mike Blair, Ruaridh Jackson, Sean Lamont.
WALES: Lee Byrne; Morgan Stoddart, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Shane Williams; James Hook, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Matthew Rees (capt), Craig Mitchell, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Ryan Jones.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, John Yapp, Jonathan Thomas, Josh Turnbull, Tavis Knoyle, Stephen Jones, Rhys Priestland.
Referee: George Clancy (Ire)