Wales and Scotland will be playing for little more than pride in Saturday’s Six Nations showdown in Cardiff. Neither side is still in contention for the title, but the significance of this Celtic clash will not be lost on these home nations.
Scotland will have to win by a massive margin to leapfrog the Welsh, but they will be far more concerned with the result than their place in the table at this point. Wales know that their hopes of an unprecedented third-successive title were crushed in Twickenham but they will be desperate to finish strongly in their own back yard.
Warren Gatland has made six changes to the side that were outdone by England. Scarlets pair Ken Owens and Rhodri Jones will start in the front row as British and Irish Lions Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones drop to the bench. Owens has recently thrived in his role as Hibbard’s replacement and the hooker deserves his starting spot.
Gethin Jenkins retains his place in the starting line up despite having been sin binned for scrummaging offences in his last two Test matches, and becomes Wales’ most capped international when he wins his 105th cap. Luke Charteris returns to the starting line up after recovering from a neck injury, replacing Jake Ball, despite his vigorous display at Twickenham last weekend.
Gatland has also opted to change his half-back partnership. Mike Phillips returns to replace Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar comes in for Rhys Priestland. Phillips will be fighting to reinstate his claim on the number nine jersey, after Webb looked promising against France and England. The Osprey scrum half will miss Wales Six Nations finale with an ankle injury, that he picked up in last week’s defeat.
The introduction of Biggar will ensure Wales manoeuvre better with ball in hand after Priestland kicked most of Wales’ possession away and fumbled the rest of it at Twickenham. Biggar will also assume the kicking duties and he will be well aware that he has some big kicking boots to fill.
Liam Williams starts at full back in the absence of the injured Leigh Halfpenny with the familiar pairings of George North and Alex Cuthbert on the wings and Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in the centres.
Scotland’s spirited second-half fight back enabled them to put away the Italians in Rome. Seven days later, they looked infused with confidence against France, but they fell away in the second half and now we will see if the disappointment of a last-gasp defeat will invigorate or decimate this inconsistent Scotland side.
Scott Johnson has made three changes ahead of his final game in charge of Scotland. Dougie Fife makes his debut on the wing, replacing Tommy Seymour, while Max Evans is set to start on the other wing in the absence of the injured Sean Lamont. Ryan Wilson has been restored to the back row in place of Johnnie Beattie, who is also injured. Dave Denton and Kelly Brown complete the back row.
The Scottish front row will fancy their chances against the Welsh scrum. Ken Owens and Rhodri Jones should bolster the Welsh set piece but after strong performances against the power of the French pack, Geoff Cross and Ryan Grant have proved they are more than capable of disrupting a scrum.
Scotland have been playing some fluid running rugby in recent weeks, but Duncan Weir will have to keep the ball alive and kick well to take the steam out of the Welsh pack.
All eyes on
Gethin Jenkins will make history on Saturday when he wins his 105th international cap, but he’ll be hoping the occasion will not be remembered for another scrummaging disaster. Geoff Cross will look to pick up where Dave Wilson and Thomas Domingo left off, and if Jenkins’ scrummaging issues continue, Wales will again be deprived of the solid set-piece platform that their game plan relies on.
Scottish captain Kelly Brown will have to be on top of his game when he comes up against Warburton and company. He will look to make a mess of the Welsh breakdown and you can rely on him to lead the defensive charge.
Head to head: Taulupe Faletau v David Denton
In this home nations clash we can look forward to the battle between Tongan Taulupe Faletau and Zimbabwean Dave Denton. These two number eights have both proved brutally effective with ball in hand, so expect an extremely physical confrontation. Both get through plenty of work in the loose, too, and are more than handy at the breakdown. Denton, in particular, will help out Kelly Brown in this area, given that his skipper is not in opposite man Warburton’s league when it comes to disrupting ball.
Expect a strong response from this fresh-faced Welsh side. If they can avoid an another aimless kicking display, then they have got enough class to overcome Scotland. Wales by 10.
By Nathan Hyde (@NathanHyde2)