The reigning Grand Slam Champions Wales head to Murrayfield this weekend to battle Scotland in an encounter set to determine who is left standing to challenge England for the RBS Six Nations crown. Both Scotland and Wales enter this weekend’s match with two wins from three, following opening round defeats, and can still realistically win the tournament, albeit provided England slip-up along the way. Unfortunately for Scotland it is not entirely within their control – even if they win the next two matches (Wales and France) they could still finish second to their auld enemy. Wales on the other hand can clinch back-to-back Six Nations titles with wins at Murrayfield and at home against England – but only if they can recuperate the points difference.
Reasons to back Scotland
Scotland edged a very narrow and lucky 12-8 win over Ireland despite being dominated in nearly every facet of the contest last time out. This weekend they will need to turn those terrible statistics upside down if they are to stand any real chance of beating Wales.
Head coach Scott Johnson feels Wales will not pose a significant problem to his team’s overall game plan as he knows exactly how the team plays and what to expect from them. The former Ospreys boss stirred the pot this week by saying that “they haven’t done anything different for five years and I like that personally”. Johnson will be hoping to use his experience working with the Ospreys to Scotland’s advantage.
He and his coaching staff have built solid foundations this Six Nations, instilling a winning mentality and breaking away from the mediocracy usually associated with Scotland’s play. He has got the best out of the likes of Hogg, Scott, Laidlaw, Maitland and Visser who all know their way to the try line. They have the players and talent to win on Saturday along with a coach who has worked at the heart of Welsh rugby.
Scotland have made two changes for this weekend as the impressive Geoff Cross is replaced by Euan Murray, a debatable decision following the former’s impressive showing against Ireland. The young and talented Glasgow fly-half Duncan Weir is rewarded for some fine club form with his first Scotland start in place of the inconsistent but unlucky Ruaridh Jackson.
If Scotland manage a win on Saturday it will be the first time they have recorded three wins in a row since 1996. No pressure, then.
Reasons to back Wales
Wales come into this weekend’s contest with a record of eight wins from the last nine encounters between the two teams while also sharing almost identical stats with the Scots for this year’s tournament. Both sides have scored the same number of points, tries, conversions and penalties over the last three matches and look difficult to separate.
Wales welcome back Sam Warburton in place of Justin Tipuric. They will be hoping the man who led them to last year’s Grand Slam can rediscover some of that form and leave behind him the poor run of performances that saw him relegated to the bench in Rome. Interestingly, Ryan Jones retains the captaincy (which he took from Warburton for the Italy match), while Alun Wyn Jones comes in at second row in place of Andrew Coombs. In the front row Paul James replaces Gethin Jenkins at loose-head prop.
Wales bring a wealth of experience to Murrayfield on Saturday, where they will try to bully and dominate the breakdowns as much as they can to stop Laidlaw, Hogg and Scott from building any sort of momentum for the Scots. Having said that, the Welsh back-three of Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert and George North certainly has the potential to hurt Scotland. A lot will depend on whether Biggar, Roberts and Davies can manage to get the ball out wide to them.
As repetitive as this gets, it is another incredibly tough one to call. Scotland simply cannot consistently survive on the amount of possession and territory they had against Ireland, and if Wales can dominate the way the Irish did they will win comfortably. However, such statistical imbalances are rare and Scotland should have more chances this weekend. That said, this Welsh team has dragged itself back onto its feet and is looking reasonably confident again. The promise of potentially pipping the English to the title the following week should see them to victory. Wales by 4.