Wales v Scotland is the first match of the 2018 Six Nations and we have all you need to know from teams to TV details to the key battle areas
Six Nations Wales v Scotland Preview
The 2018 Six Nations kicks off with two injury-hit sides taking to the field at the Principality Stadium. Yet while both Wales and Scotland are without big names, there is still an intriguing match ahead in Cardiff – and the result is likely to dictate how good a championship they have with momentum so key in this tournament.
The Key Battle Areas
The scrum – Okay, this particular set-piece may not be such a key factor in results as it once was (you can have an ineffective scrum and still win a Test), but when you are missing a handful of frontline props, as Scotland are, it is going to hit your capabilities in that area.
Gregor Townsend has opted for the most experienced front row he can select but that has meant picking a prop who has not played a Test since RWC 2015 in Jon Welsh and another who has won the vast majority of his 27 caps off the bench in Gordon Reid.
Wales – with a first all-Llanelli/Scarlets front row since 1891! – will be looking to make their unity as well as their experience (Ken Owens has more caps than the three Scots combined) tell at scrum time. And with the ballast of Cory Hill and Alun Wyn Jones in the second row their aim will be to dominate this particular facet.
Related: Six Nations TV Coverage
The breakdown – Hamish Watson is a brilliant jackler and his partner on the other flank, John Barclay, enjoys getting stuck in at the contact area too.
Wales could have opted for a more dynamic seven in Justin Tipuric or James Davies, but the decision to retain Josh Navidi is likely to be crucial in this area. Navidi, such a standout in the November Tests, grafts hard at the breakdown and should complement Aaron Shingler, who so enjoys the open spaces, and the tough-tackling, power-running Ross Moriarty.
The half-backs – Gareth Davies and Ali Price both set a fast tempo and the Welshman loves to snipe. The contest between these two nines should be compelling.
Then at fly-half we have one man who has been central to his country’s rise over the past couple of years and another who is wearing the No 10 shirt for the first time in a Test.
Finn Russell guides Scotland around the park with aplomb, varying his passes and kicks as well as keeping defenders in check on the gain-line for he is known to make a decent break too. Rhys Patchell has done the same for the Scarlets – but has not had the chance to show his repertoire at fly-half for Wales. His previous two Test starts have been at full-back, where he has also featured regularly for the Scarlets this season. Here is a chance for Patchell to prove he can get a back-line firing at Test level in the same way he has for his region. If he can do that, and with Russell likely to be doing the same for the team in blue, the Principality crowd could be in for a feast of end-to-end rugby.
The midfield – Hadleigh Parkes may be new to the Test arena but he has played many times with Scott Williams for the Scarlets and that familiarity is going to be critical, particularly in defence. The Scots’ creativity in attack will test Wales structures under Shaun Edwards and having faith in those alongside you is key. The centres will have that – they are both strong in the tackle – and with so many Scarlets in the back-line (debutant Josh Adams is the odd one out) they should work together comfortably as a unit without the ball.
In attack, expect Parkes and Williams to run hard at their opposite numbers, particular to test Huw Jones positioning at inside-centre. Chris Harris is winning only his second cap but Gregor Townsend is confident he can deliver at 13, saying: “He’s just found a groove in his defence this year. He’s enjoyed tackling, he’s read plays really well.”
It will also be interesting to see whether Jones can have as much influence on Scotland’s attacking game in the 12 channel – or perhaps he and Harris will switch roles depending on the position on the pitch.
Wales v Scotland, Saturday 3 February, 2.15pm, Principality Stadium
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Josh Adams, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans; Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Owen Watkin.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Chris Harris, Huw Jones, Byron McGuigan; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, Stuart McInally, Jon Welsh, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray, John Barclay (captain), Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez.
Replacements: Scott Lawson, Jamie Bhatti, Murray McCallum, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Wilson, Greig Laidlaw, Pete Horne, Sean Maitland.
Pascal Gauzere is not afraid to make big calls, sending off Australia prop Sekope Kepu for a shoulder charge on Scotland’s Hamish Watson in November. Gauzere is assisted by fellow Frenchman Romain Poite and Matthew Carley of England, while David Grashoff is the TMO.
The TV Details
The game is live on BBC1 and their punditry team this year includes Lions captain Sam Warburton, England’s World Cup-winning skipper Martin Johnson, Ireland icon Paul O’Connell and Scotland centurion Chris Paterson. If you’re out and about, you can listen live on BBC 5live Extra. Click the link for all the TV details for the rest of the tournament.