Date: 12th February 2011
Kick-off: 17:00 (GMT)
Almost a year ago to the day that they meet in this year’s championship, Scotland and Wales played out an encounter that will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it. Roll on twelve months and the events that unfolded at the Millennium Stadium seem even more surreal. The undeserved losing side that day, Scotland, are very much the team in the ascendancy. Wales, on the other hand, failed to learn from their great escape, and are now seemingly unable to arrest a decline in form that is in danger of escalating into a full blown crisis.
While the bi-annual pilgrimage to Edinburgh may not be undertaken by as many Welsh supporters as at its peak in the 1970s, it still remains by some considerable distance the most anticipated away trip in the Six Nations. Accordingly the pressure is always on Wales to deliver at Murrayfield, a pressure that has not been handled very well by the men in red. Three wins in twenty-five years is testament to how much they have struggled, and such form is hardly ideal inspiration for a side that are very much stuck in a rut. Eight tests without victory speak for itself, but what is most concerning is the type of performances Wales are churning out. Lack of vision and accuracy was once again a familiar feature in last week’s defeat to England.
Scotland will be buoyed by the nature of their defeat in Paris last Saturday. Against an on-song French team, they competed admirably. The fact that the all French tries came directly from turnovers will frustrate coach Andy Robinson, but equally as much offer him belief, as his team gels over the course of the next few weeks. It should not be forgotten that the Scot’s produced an error ridden opening in the autumn, where they were punished by the All Blacks. Robinson will hope that his team will move on as effectively as they did after that drubbing, where they recorded a scrappy, but well-crafted defeat of the Springboks a week later. The added expanse seen in their play in last week’s Championship opener may also mean they now have a plan B away from their over reliance on Dan Parks’ boot.
What to expect:
Anything even remotely near last season’s game will send the neutrals away very pleased, but it would be more realistic to say that such a match was the exception, rather than the rule. This is clearly a must win match in the context of the Championship, as the Wooden Spoon begins to loom large on the horizon, should either side slip up again. But irrespective of what coach Warren Gatland has said in the media in the build up, it is hard to see Wales taking a conservative approach early on. Wales have proved time and time again they will struggle when it comes to an arm wrestle up front.
All eyes on:
If ever there was a player being viewed in an almost messiah-type light, then it is James Hook. The last time the 25-year-old started a test at outside half was in Rome two years ago. More worryingly though for Wales is that starts for the Ospreys have been almost equally as sparse. Undoubtedly a gifted player, Hook has been poorly utilised by both club and country, and expecting him to be the saviour to all Wales’ creative ills on Saturday is a massive ask.
Meanwhile, Richie Gray has been a revelation for both club and country this season and at only 21-years-old, he already looks likely to become a mainstay at test level. The Glasgow man has the potential to hurt Wales up front with his physical presence and dynamism.
Head to head: Ryan Jones v Kelly Brown
One of the killer Bs, Brown has caused no end of problems in recent seasons, although from his more regular test position of flanker. His jostle with Jones at the gain line promises to make for fascinating viewing, with the former Welsh captain showing at least some glimpses of his former self last Friday.
Weather: ?A fairly crisp Edinburgh evening is in store for fans, albeit with none of the damp stuff.
Last year’s result: 13th February 2010: Wales 31-24 Scotland
Fortress Murrayfield is a fierce test for any side, let alone one that is so short on form. 2009’s victory was built on nullifying the threat from Scotland up front and exploiting them out wide, but I’m not convinced Wales have the ball carriers up front to cause enough problems. Furthermore, there are glaring holes in the back line selection, such as Jamie Roberts being used at outside centre and Mike Phillips’ suffering a run of poor form. I think when push comes to shove, the home side will be the ones who will be able dictate proceedings more on their own terms. Scotland by 9