Scotland will have to confound history if they're to defeat a Wales side with a proud record in Edinburgh. Here's what you need to know about Saturday's Six Nations clash
Six Nations Scotland v Wales preview
How’s your memory? Remarkably, John Major was PM and Charles and Diana were still married the last time Scotland won their opening two games of the championship.
The year was 1996, when Scotland beat Ireland 16-10 in Dublin, then France 19-14 in Edinburgh, on the way to a runners-up spot behind England.
Read more: Six Nations history
Since then, they’ve won their opening match on seven occasions – and followed it with defeat every time. In 2021 and 2022, they beat England first up only to fall flat on their face against Wales in round two.
And here we are again, the Scots having produced a stirring Calcutta Cup win last weekend and now awaiting a Welsh team battered 34-10 by Ireland.
Related: Rugby Fixtures
“Referencing last year has been something both our players and coaches have done, but really last year is irrelevant,” said coach Gregor Townsend, who was part of that 1996 team.
True enough. But quietly, there is a feeling that Scotland can finally end their second-round blues and achieve something special in the Six Nations.
They are finding the width they cherish with more ease, the passing skills of the forwards evident in that winning try by Duhan van der Merwe when Richie Gray and Matt Fagerson turned providers. Long passes from the base took out multiple English defenders. “That’s the best shape I’ve seen from Scotland in recent years,” said Sir Ian McGeechan.
Scotland would be right to be wary. Not once in 2022 did they string together successive victories. “The thing we’ve been striving for most is putting in those 80-minute performances rather than the 60-minuters,” Chris Harris told Rugby World.
“Such as New Zealand (in November), we played well for 60, we were winning after 60, but we didn’t finish it off. We’ll play well one week and win and then play well for 60 and not take our chances. But everything is there, we just need to put it all together. Put that complete performance in and back them up.”
Momentum can shift quickly, and even in that chastening opener for Wales there were signs of a revival in the second half. Warren Gatland has been ruthless, sidelining some of the veterans who brought him so much past success and giving youngsters their spurs. Last week the average age of the Welsh back row was 27, now it is 22.
The changes reflected the mood of those responding to a BBC poll about Welsh selection. Online voters also wanted Rhys Webb to start at nine but Tomos Williams retains the shirt.
With competitors like Ken Owens and Dan Biggar at their core, you cannot put anything beyond Wales. They are used to pulling rabbits from the hat. Nevertheless, the force looks to be with Scotland for this one.
On offer along with prestige and precious Six Nations points is the Doddie Weir Cup, named in honour of the much-loved former Scotland lock who died from MND in November.
A team of rugby legends, including former Scotland captain Rob Wainwright and World Cup-winning England skipper Martin Johnson, are cycling 555 miles in just 48 hours to deliver the match ball ahead of the match in support of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.
The ride takes place during the last week of Doddie Aid 2023, a national event in which more than 38,000 fundraisers across the UK have rallied to raise money for MND research.
This is the fourth year that the ride has taken place and the teams are aiming to raise over £500,000. If you would like to make a donation, see the Doddie Cup 555 Ride page.
What’s the big team news?
Wholesale changes on one side, as you were on the other.
For Scotland, Zander Fagerson for WP Nel is the only change from last weekend’s XV at Twickenham. It’s a swap that Gregor Townsend hinted at last week, Fagerson having now benefited from a few more days’ training following a hamstring injury.
Nel drops down to the bench in place of Simon Berghan. Otherwise, it’s a vote of confidence to the men who so thrillingly retained the Calcutta Cup.
Wales make six changes, one positional, to the side beaten by Ireland. And they are all in the pack as Warren Gatland axes – or rests, according to your take on things – veterans Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. The latter gets a place on the bench.
Dafydd Jenkins, the 20-year-old Exeter lock, will make his first Test start for Wales, while Tommy Reffell and Six Nations debutant Christ Tshiunza – also both plying their trade in the English Premiership – come into the back row. Jac Morgan shifts from six to No 8.
There are two new props. Wyn Jones returns at loosehead for Gareth Thomas having missed the autumn through injury, and Dillon Lewis replaces Tomas Francis.
The starting back-line remains unaltered from the opening fixture, but there are four changes among the replacements. Ospreys second-row Rhys Davies could win his first Test cap, Dragons tighthead Leon Brown is in line for his first Wales appearance since last year’s championship, and Rhys Patchell also gets a seat on the bench.
What have the coaches said?
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend: “We believe Zander is more than ready to perform. When we saw how well he trained last week, we did think about involving him. But we wanted to back WP and Simon Berghan, who both played really well for us.
“We delayed the (internal) team announcement because we had a few selections to sleep on. I believe they’ve earned the right to get a second opportunity to build on that win but the performance wasn’t our best. We’ve got players on the bench and outside the 23 who have played very well for us or are itching for that opportunity, so it wasn’t an easy decision.
“We have to improve from last week because in large parts of that game we weren’t at our best. I saw better performances in Argentina in the summer and in November. The good thing was we took our opportunities and showed resilience in that final quarter. That makes us tough to beat.
“We know Wales are a quality side and they’ve picked a team that is going to come after us.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland said: “We’ve made some changes but tried to keep some continuity with the same back-line. Wyn has been working really hard in the last three weeks in camp and he gets an opportunity. Then Dafydd Jenkins comes into the second row, looking a bit to the future. Christ Tshiunza as well. We’re looking at options at eight; if Toby Faletau picks up an injury, who’s going to cover there, so Jac gets that chance.
“We thought we created opportunities last week but weren’t clinical enough so we need to start better. We gave away some stupid penalties penalties when we weren’t really under a lot of pressure, so that’s been an area we’ve spoken about. We’ve tried to focus on the positives and the things that we can address ourselves.
“Scotland have some experience in that squad, so it’s going to be a great encounter. It’s a good test of the improvements we can make from the things that we need to tidy up.”
On the uncapped Rhys Davies: “He’s a big man, physical man, and he gets his chance. I was delighted with the players when we named the team. Obviously there were some changes but the rest of the boys were brilliant in terms of congratulating people, for Rhys sitting on the bench and for other players getting a start. That was a real positive in the squad.”
Any interesting statistics?
- Scotland are striving to make it two wins from two in the tournament for the first time in 27 years
- Wales have won 18 of the last 21 meetings, stretching back to August 2003
- Warren Gatland has won all ten of his matches against Scotland as Wales coach. But he did lose to Scotland as Ireland’s head coach in 2001
- Scotland kicked the most out of hand last week (42), while Wales kicked the least (25)
- The Scots averaged 4.1 points per entry into the 22 while Wales averaged 0.9 points – the best and worst figures in round one
- Townsend’s men not only made the most tackles (214) last week but recorded the best tackle success rate (91%)
- Wales recorded the most dominant tackles (23), five more than second-placed Scotland
- Duhan van der Merwe beat 11 defenders against England – the most by any player since the Scotland winger beat 13 Italian defenders in 2021
- Rio Dyer has the best average carry distance in round one, his 15.4m pushing van der Merwe (13m) into second
- Finn Russell made 18 carries last week. The only fly-half to exceed that in a Six Nations match was Gregor Townsend (19) v Italy in 2000
- George North needs one try to go clear of Shane Williams as Wales’ leading Six Nations try-scorer. The centre is on 22
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
Scotland v Wales, Saturday 11 February, Murrayfield Stadium
The match kicks off at 4.45pm and will be broadcast live on BBC1 and S4C. There will be radio commentary on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra.
Related: How to watch the Six Nations
Andrew Brace, a Welshman assigned to the Irish union, will be the referee in Edinburgh. Completing an all-Irish team of officials are Frank Murphy and Chris Busby with the flags, and TMO Brian MacNeice.
Read more: Six Nations referees
What are the line-ups?
Scotland Stuart Hogg; Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie (capt), Luke Crosbie, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 WP Nel, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 George Horne, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Harris.
Wales Liam Williams; Josh Adams, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer; Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens (capt), Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Adam Beard, Christ Tshiunza, Tommy Reffell, Jac Morgan.
Replacements 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Rhys Davies, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Alex Cuthbert.
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