Preview: Wales vs Scotland

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 06:54

SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: Injuries have deprived Wales of several experienced internationals, however Warren Gatland hope the Scarlets' winning formula can rub off when they welcome a resurgent Scotland to Cardiff for their Six Nations opener on Saturday.

Jonathan Davies, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Taulupe Faletau and former captain Sam Warburton among those ruled out of Saturday's match, head coach Gatland was forced to rearrange his approach.

The mentor has named a team which contains 10 men from Llanelli - the Scarlets players rewarded for their fine form in the domestic PRO14 and European Champions Cup tournaments this season.

Worcester's Josh Adams, who has scored 13 tries for the Warriors this season, will make his debut on the wing after Wales decided against gambling on the fitness of George North, struggling with a knee problem, but the rest of the back division is made up of Scarlets.

Rhys Patchell is selected at flyhalf with Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams the centre pairing.

"We are all aware of the pressure on players, particularly after a Lions year," said Gatland, who guided the combined side to a drawn series in his native New Zealand in 2017.

"Players haven't had a huge amount of time in the off-season to repair and recover.

"A lot of teams are in the same boat, but it's just the way the game is going,"

"The Scarlets have got to the quarter-finals in Europe and there’s a group of them who have come in with confidence and belief as a collective which can definitely be positive," said Gatland.

"Those combinations played a big part in our selection. Rhys has a good season and both he and Gareth Davies have trained particularly well over the last week," he added.

"There was a healthy discussion about who we should pick, but we decided both of them had put their hands up.

"Those two guys are familiar with each other’s play. That speeded up our preparation a little bit and hopefully it will get us off to a good start in the Six Nations," the British and Irish Lions boss explained.

Leigh Halfpenny and Steffan Evans join 22-year-old Adams in the back three.

In the pack, it's an all-Scarlets front row made up of Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee, with veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones the captain.

Adams, who will team up alongside his former schoolmate Steffan Evans, said: "I'm thankful the coaches have put their faith in me, but I felt a bit sick when I found out.

"I've worked really hard to get to this point and when you get there, it's surreal. There are a lot of nerves, mixed with excitement, but I can't wait for Saturday.”

With Scotland resurgent after an impressive end of 2017 series that included a victory over Australia and a narrow defeat by world champions New Zealand, hopes are high they can end their 15-year wait for a win in Cardiff.

It is also eight years since Scotland last won an away match in the Six Nations anywhere other than Rome.

But last year saw the Scots end a run of nine consecutive defeats by Wales.

Saturday's match will be the first time that Scotland boss Gregor Townsend has coached in the Six Nations and the former playmaker said: "We've selected a squad we believe can start with the intensity and speed required to win in Cardiff. We're expecting a physical game against a very good team.

Wales have one of the best defences in the game and an attack that sees forwards passing much more and a structure that enables backs to get on the ball."

While Wales's selection is dominated by players from the Scarlets, the regional side also provide the Scotland captain in flank John Barclay, with gifted fullback Stuart Hogg likely to be the visitors' main dangerman.

Players to watch:

For Wales: Despite being bombarded with injuries there are still positive when it comes to the Welsch side, especially when in terms of their loose forwards. No.8 Ross Moriarty will be a menace at the breakdown, while captain Alun Wyn Jones' tall figure and aggressive nature will hand Wales the upper hand in the line-outs.

For Scotland: The halfback pairing of Ali Price and Finn Russell have the prowess to put any opposition on the back, and if the two of them managed to click on the day they will dictate the pace of game perfectly. At centre, the try-scoring machine Huw Jones, whether at inside or outside, has the attacking ability that can cause havoc in the middle of the park. The forwards do not catch the eye as the back do but there are some positive notes especially in the shape of captain John Barclay. His abrasive workrate does influence the front to up their performance.  

Head to head: The battle at fullback will be interesting, Leigh Halfpenny will opt for the technical kicking approach, while fullback Stuart Hogg will want to attack whenever he has a chance. The two will most likely take the long-distance kicking duties as well. At the line-out, the likes of  Alun Wyn Jones (captain) and  Cory Hill would want to dominate Scotland's Jonny Gray and Ben Toolis.

Recent results:

2017: Scotland won 29-13, Edinburgh
2016: Wales won 27-23, Cardiff
2015: Wales won 26-23, Edinburgh
2014: Wales won 51-3, Cardiff
2013: Wales won 28-18, Edinburgh
2012: Wales won 27-13, Cardiff
2011: Wales won 24-6, Edinburgh
2010: Wales won 31-24, Cardiff
2009: Wales won 26-13, Edinburgh
2008: Wales won 30-15, Cardiff
2007: Scotland won 21-9, Edinburgh

Prediction: History does favour the Welsh, however their injury setback and form during the November Test series which includes a narrow win to struggling Springboks there is a slim chance of Warren Gatland's side bagging a win. That is why Scotland will win this by five points or less.

Teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Owen Watkin.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Sean Maitland.

Date: Saturday, February 3
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.15 (14.15 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)

@rugby365com & AFP

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SIX NATIONS
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Team P W D L Pts
Ireland 5 5 0 0 26
Wales 5 3 0 2 15
Scotland 5 3 0 2 13
France 5 2 0 3 11
England 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 1