All you need to know about the Test between Scotland and Wales at Murrayfield
Six Nations Scotland v Wales Preview
No coach has ever presided over three Grand Slam-winning teams, but this weekend could see Warren Gatland move within one step of achieving that historic hat-trick.
After Slams in 2008 and 2012, the Wales supremo and his team face a mighty hurdle at Murrayfield because Scotland have regained three world-class players and are looking to turn the pain of Paris into Edinburgh excellence.
Two years ago, when Wales were under the temporary stewardship of Rob Howley, the visitors were swept aside 20-0 in a second half notable for the breakdown prowess of Hamish Watson. Scotland won 29-13.
Watson is back from a hand injury this weekend, albeit only on the bench, and with Finn Russell steering the ship and WP Nel anchoring the scrum, Scotland will be a very different proposition from the side that subsided too meekly in France.
“For Scotland in Paris and in the second half against Ireland, they compounded error on error and allowed the opposition to build a performance,” said former Scotland scrum-half Rory Lawson on Scrum V. “Essentially they played themselves out of the game, rather than the opposition doing something special to break them.”
Scrum-half Ali Price, restored to the XV at the expense of captain Greig Laidlaw, echoed that sentiment. “We’ve put in shots here and there but we’ve not really clicked yet, bar maybe the first hour of the Italy game.”
If Scotland do click, Wales will need to be at their best to maintain their near total stranglehold in the fixture since Gatland arrived in 2008. Their faltering wins in Paris and Rome are irrelevant now, replaced by the stirring 21-13 round-three defeat of England that some heralded as Wales’ best performance for many years.
The double-up tackling, the aerial dominance, the discipline, the patience… there were multifarious factors behind the defeat of England and they will step out at Murrayfield as favourites. The QBE Supercomputer, which we’ve referred to throughout this Guinness Six Nations, is predicting a 22-16 Wales win, although interestingly it still makes second-placed England favourites to take the title.
The lineout apart, the Welsh game is in good working order and perhaps the biggest destabilization is the public debate concerning Project Reset, which prompted Gatland to name his team two days early. The rumours and chatter is not at all what Wales players need as they attempt to set up a Grand Slam match against Ireland next weekend.
What’s the big team news?
Scotland make four changes from the side humbled in Paris, including a new half-back partnership. Finn Russell was always going to return after going through the concussion protocol but Ali Price’s selection is a statement of intent to keep the tempo high.
It will be the scrum-half’s first start since the same fixture last year, when his intercepted pass, providing a try for Gareth Davies, led to skipper Greig Laidlaw winning back his place.
Wing Darcy Graham, with just a couple of sub appearances behind him, starts at the expense of Sean Maitland while up front WP Nel – recovered from a calf injury – walks back in to provide world-class scrummaging power.
Hamish Watson, one of Scotland’s four best players along with Russell, Nel and the injured Stuart Hogg, is on the bench.
Wales have made just one change – enforced because of injury – to the side that turned it on in the second half against England.
Cory Hill’s ankle injury in that match ended his involvement in the tournament, clearing the path for Adam Beard’s return to the engine room. The 23-year-old Ospreys lock has featured in all nine Wales Tests since their back-to-back tour wins against Argentina last June.
Jake Ball comes onto a bench that will again be warmed by Dan Biggar, whose starring role as a replacement a fortnight ago has not persuaded Warren Gatland to tinker.
Gareth Anscombe thus makes his sixth start in eight Tests and given that the exceptions were Tonga and Italy – the weakest opponents within that batch of matches – it’s beginning to look as if Gatland has made his mind up about his No 1 fly-half.
What have the coaches said?
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend told Scrum V: “The last game and a half we’ve not played close to our potential. Going into half-time against Ireland we were playing well, getting into the game with our attack, putting Ireland under pressure.
“Since then we’ve shown too many inaccuracies in our game. That’s what we’re working on to improve this weekend. We’ve got a job to do which is to play much better but also deliver a performance our supporters can be proud of.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland said: “It was a fairly straightforward selection. We’ve got a big challenge on our hands for a couple of reasons. One is to avenge the defeat from two years ago, but we’ve also got the bigger challenge in mind of trying to win the Six Nations. We haven’t secured any bonus points, which makes it a challenge.
“We are a team that is maturing. They can go through phases in a game where we are under pressure but that doesn’t seem to rock them. I don’t see fear in their eyes or any trepidation.
“The biggest challenge for us is not to be happy with beating England. We must not accept where we are at the moment but try to build on Saturday and create something very special. I haven’t lost in Scotland in Wales but they’ve become really tough to beat there.”
Any interesting statistics?
* Wales are looking to extend their record winning sequence to 13 matches. Their last defeat was away to Ireland, next week’s opponents, in February last year.
* Wales have never lost to Scotland under Warren Gatland, who has won ten out of ten meetings with them in his current job. Wales’ only defeat since Gatland took charge after RWC 2007 occurred two years ago when he was on a sabbatical because of the Lions job.
* Greig Laidlaw, named as a replacement, could become only the third Scot to score 300 Test points at Murrayfield. The goal-kicking scrum-half is on 291, behind Chris Paterson (366) and Gavin Hastings (334).
* Stuart McInally captains Scotland for just the third time. He wore the armband in matches against Argentina last June and Wales in November – he scored a try on both occasions!
* Welsh discipline has improved in leaps and bounds during the championship. They conceded ten penalties in Paris, six in Rome and just four in Cardiff against England – one of which was a wrong call against Justin Tipuric for a supposed no-arms tackle.
* Wales achieved 60% possession in their wins against Italy and England. The Scots average 49% in this championship so have a mountain to climb to turn that figure to their advantage.
* Scotland missed 27 tackles against France in round three and have conceded a try every 24 minutes during the tournament.
* Wales are the only team yet to score a first-half try in this Six Nations – but their seven second-half tries trumps the rest. Fifty-six of Wales’ 71 points have come after the break.
* Jonny Gray and Tommy Seymour will both win their 50th caps. Gray, 24, will become the 14th Tier One player to win 50 caps before turning 25. Among the existing 13 players, Gray’s injured team-mate Stuart Hogg won 53 caps by 25 while Wales wing George North won 72 of his current 84 caps by that age.
* Scotland have won 12 of their previous 15 home games, with New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland the only sides to prevail at Murrayfield in that time.
* Wales have the worst-performing lineout in this championship, at 69.7%. But they have won eight scrum penalties – more than any of their rivals.
* Wales have conceded the joint fewest penalties (with Ireland) in the tournament, at 19. In contrast, Scotland have conceded the joint most (with Italy) at 29, with the major problems being the ruck and tackle areas.
* Blair Kinghorn, deputising for the absent Stuart Hogg, has carried for the most metres – 464. And team-mate Jamie Ritchie tops the chart for most breakdown steals (four, with France’s Wenceslas Lauret) and most defensive ruck arrivals (44).
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
The match at BT Murrayfield kicks off at 2.15pm UK time on Saturday and is live on BBC. There will also be commentary online and on the BBC’s 5 Live, Scotland, Wales and Cymru radio channels, plus TV highlights on BBC2 on Sunday at 6pm.
The referee is France’s Pascal Gauzere, who took charge of the same fixture a year ago in Cardiff. He will have touchline assistance from England’s Luke Pearce and Argentina’s Federico Anselmi, with South Africa’s Marius Jonker fulfilling TMO duties.
What are the line-ups?
Scotland: Blair Kinghorn; Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Pete Horne, Darcy Graham; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Allan Dell, Stuart McInally (capt), WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Josh Strauss.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Adam Hastings 23 Byron McGuigan.
Wales: Liam Williams; George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin.