Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


5 Key Points For Beating Wales

Tommy Seymour celebrates pic © Al Ross

As Scotland make their way to Cardiff their fans remain divided following the defeat to France. In one corner the optimists taking the positives from another improved performance and in the other the pessimists who rightly point out that Scotland threw the game away. The Pollyannas and Private Frazers make valid points. Scotland threw the game away with a series of missed penalties and two moments of madness but they were also dominant for most of the game, destroyed the French set piece and scored two tries.

We’ve been holding off from writing these pieces until after the team announcement to try and focus on tactics rather than selection debates. However injuries have forced Scott Johnson to delay naming his back line. The half backs, centres and full back are unlikely to change with the wings the only areas still up for grabs as well as spots on the bench. Scott Johnson may be tempted to go with Jones, Evans and Cuthbert on Saturday just to try and confuse the Welsh.

Johnson says he has “form” to show he won’t blink an eyelid before throwing the likes of Fife and Cuthbert into the fray to widen Scotland’s pool of test players. Some may question that form with Johnson blinking so much when faced with the likes of Roddy Grant and Chris Fusaro that the strobe effect is likely to have caused a fit.

Wales have struggled so far in the 6 Nations and having been brushed aside so easily by Ireland and England it’s hard to remember exactly why there were so many Welsh players in the Lions squad. But then Scotland have had their struggles too and with neither in contention for the Championship the only prizes on offer are pride and redemption. With the continuing uncertainty around the future of Celtic rugby it’s hard to know who needs or wants it more.

So what do Scotland have to do win in Cardiff for the first time since 2002?

1. Discipline

Scotland gave away thirteen penalties against France with the first three in very kickable positions. Wales might not be able to rely on Leigh Halfpenny’s boot but Scotland cannot give away so many penalties and expect to win matches. Despite the high penalty count big Jim Hamilton only gave away one penalty in the whole match. A personal best perhaps.

The biggest culprits were Cross and Grant, however they were able to stabilise the scrum as the match went on and eventually gained the upper hand. The Welsh scrum seems to be struggling with new engagement laws having been denied their usual tactic of engaging late and fooling the referee into thinking their opposite numbers had jumped the gun. Warren Gatland has shuffled the front row but Gethin Jenkins still starts. If Scotland can dominate the scrum like they did in the latter half of the game against France then Jenkins might struggle to stay on the pitch.

Elsewhere on the pitch Kelly Brown has issued instructions for players to back away from 50/50 balls unless players are confident of winning the ball. That tactic may prove tricky against a Welsh back row that thrives on competing at the breakdown.

2. Target Dan Biggar & Liam Williams

Scotland have enjoyed some success by targeting inexperienced opposition players. They rattled Tommy Allan and scored a try by (literally and perhaps illegally) taking Jules Pilson out of the game. Dan Biggar has had limited game time for Wales so far although he will benefit from having Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips either side of him. Still Matt Scott might fancy a run at him and it may bear fruit.

Liam Williams comes in for Leigh Halfpenny a full back and Scotland would do well to force him to deal with some high balls early on in the match. However if he is a match for anything Hogg and Weir throw at him Scotland will need to vary their line of attack.

3. Kick for the corner

Scotland’s line out was back to its former glory against France. Hamilton bossed his pack well and caused so much destruction in the French line that their backs gave up trying to make touch. Even the introduction of Ross Ford did little to dent Scotland’s dominance (squint throw aside).

Richard Hibbard drops to the bench in order to compare slimming tips with Scott Johnson and Ken Owens steps into the breach. The Welsh line out is no pushover but it’s not perfect either. If Weir’s kicking accuracy has gradually improved during the tournament and Scotland should be making more use of Hogg’s huge range. If Scotland can chase down balls as they did against France and cause enough interference in the line out they will find themselves in good attacking positions.

4. Patience

The Welsh defence can seem like a brick wall at times. However they have conceded tries in every game so far in the Championship. There is a way through and around but Scotland, and more specifically Duncan Weir will need to be patient.

Weir has thrown a few miss passes and it only serves to slow the attack and in one case gifted a try to the opposition. Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar are capable of throwing quick accurate passes to take advantage of any overlaps. If Weir keeps his head and allows those outside him to do their jobs Scotland will find a way through, around or under the Welsh defence.

5. Defensive line speed

Scotland’s quick defensive line speed rattled the French and denied the likes of Basteraud the chance to build up a head of steam. Wales were similarly stifled by a quick English defence last weekend. Wales have plenty of runners but their threat can be contained if they are denied an opportunity to stretch their legs.

Scott Johnson may need to consider the size of wingers on offer when choosing his final line ups. Jones and Evans both offer plenty of attacking threat but starting two Scottish hobbits against rampaging Welsh orcs might be defensive suicide.

Additional reporting and jokes Scottish Rugby Blog staff

10 Responses

  1. Full disclosure folks – I wrote this and posted it then saw the final team announcement had been made. We weren’t expecting it till tommorrow.

    I could go back and edit it but we spent too long on Rory’s Evans, Jones, Cuthbert joke and my hobbits v orcs but to give them up.

  2. Apart from the fact that Laidlaw is still starting, this looks like quite an exciting backline and I look forward to seeing what Fife can do. The same comment a number of people have made a lot this week is that Wales are tired. Scotland therefore need to keep the pressure on them for as long as possible and make them crack. They had to put everything into the England game so they will still be tired on Saturday. Finally, I would not be surprised to see North, Cuthbert etc. targeting Max Evans when running with the ball. He may be able to slow them down but it will be tough for him to keep bringing some of the biggest and strongest runners in world rugby down.

  3. In defence of our ‘hobbit’ Max Evans, he pulled down Heaslip and stopped him scoring against Ireland. Just saying.

    1. Yes and he did very well with stopping what looked like a certain try. But at that time he was pulling down Heaslip from the side and he had just been slowed down by Hogg. He is going to struggle a lot more if he has North and Cuthbert running straight at him…

    2. I don’t think there has been much to criticise Evans for this 6N. I’m looking forward to seeing if his time in France has improved him now that he has finally got a start again.

      I don’t think he has much time left in the squad so I hope he grasps this chance.

  4. He’ll handle it, wrap thee legs up and it doesn’t matter how fast you are. Besides if we are allowing one on ones in those areas of the field then we are inviting the Welsh to score regardles who is doing the tackling.
    Roberts is there true danger man if he crashes through that gainline as he did against France and Italy then the Taffs will score for fun. Good line speed, make the first tackle and keep the sodding penalty count down then who knows. Oine plus point is the Welsh have been giving up scrum penalties almost as much as we have against solid front rows. They scraped through against Italy, and the French didn’t exactly bring their A game.
    We are underdogs by a long way, but if the lads can go out thinking we have no pressure, no expectations, enjoy it and play relaxed, then maybe, just maybe we could see something magic.
    Oh and let Hogg do the kicking for f!@$* sake.

  5. KB has reiterated what I said earlier this week, let the opposition have the ball rather than give the ref the opportunity to penalise us, that’s a good stance. As my nickname suggests, I’m hoping we can get this Cardiff monkey off our back. No pressure from a competition perspective so go out and enjoy it, throw the ball around and run the Welsh down. Not sure how the W are going to look at this. Will they be determined to show they are as good as they have been or will they just want the final whistle to go and take a rest? I hope our boys are up to show that we are better than the results. I have my tickets and hope to witness the end of a long run of defeats. I don’t think I could handle a repeat of 2010!!!

  6. I know it’s tempting fate to call it, but the Wales coaching team and playing squad do come across as a bit apprehensive, uncertain and vulnerable following two really poor performances and a win against a pretty shambolic France XV. Whereas we possibly – repeat possibly – reached some kind of turning point in the second half v Italy. Setback v France, yes, but that was more lack of discipline and nous than anything else.

    So if we can get stuck in really early up front today, keep that line speed high and at least get on level terms at the breakdown, we’re in with a good chance of pulling it off. We’re certainly not the 6/1 outsiders most bookies are offering, so I’m tempted to put my money where my mouth is as well.

    One final word in praise of Jim Hamilton. He has many critics, rightly so for his lack of discipline, but he’s done some really good work in the tight and loose this 6N ( I’m sure I even recall him doing a two yard carry against France). I hope he has another good game and that he doesn’t let me down now by getting carded!

  7. Game not over yet but if any doubts existed over the paucity of talent in the Scottish set up then this should serve as a huge wake up call. The wait till Cotter takes over brigade must be heading for the hills because there is no way he can turn this lot into winners never mind world beaters. The Six Nations has become The Four Nations then us and Italy. Calls made earlier in the tournament that Scotland and Italy might be ‘relegated’ are not too far off the mark now. It is becoming more and more obvious that the present set up in Scottish rugby is not fit for purpose. Root and branch changes have to be made NOW!! regardless of how this affects our chances in the next 6N and World Cup, what these changes are I don’t presume to know but there are many rugby people both inside and outside the SRU set up who can and must come up with a cohesive plan and strategy to restore Scottish rugby to parity with the rest of the Six Nations.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion