Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Wales v Scotland: match preview

Richie Gray is tackled
Richie Gray runs into trouble during Scotland vs Wales in the RBS Six Nations Championship at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

KO 2.15 at the Principality Stadium
Saturday 3rd February

Live on BBC1

The opening round of the 6 Nations has not been kind to Scotland. It started badly right from their very first game in the newly reconstituted tournament in the year 2000 as the reigning 5 Nations champions went down to debutants Italy. Things have rarely improved since and only twice in a total of 18 attempts have the dark blues managed to win their first match – unfortunately the worst record of all 6 teams:

England – 18 wins in Round 1
France – 13 wins
Ireland – 12 wins, 1 draw
Wales – 7 wins, 1 draw
Italy – 3 wins
Scotland – 2 wins

In such a short championship a strong start is pretty much essential for any side that wants to be competing near the top of the table. Scotland have to put their previous slothful beginnings in the past and follow the template set last season when they turned over Ireland in their opener. The whole team need to be hitting their straps from the moment the whistle blows to kick off Round 1. There’s no better time to show this than on Saturday against Wales.

Wales Scouting Report

  • Pass masters
    Wales 2.0 have moved on somewhat from what was frequently referred to as Warrenball – they are now a team that keep the ball alive in preference to taking contact and they like to throw an awful lot of passes. In their matches versus Southern Hemisphere nations across the Autumn, the Welsh averaged 213 passes per game (Scotland’s equivalent figure was 173). This will most likely mean extra stress on the Scottish backline and scramble defence.
  • Tacklebots
    Wales’ defence is well structured and tough to break down. Against Australia, the Welsh made 150 tackles and only missed 3 in the entire game. They struggled (as everyone does) to contain New Zealand but in their other two Autumn Tests they showed that they were comfortable making around 200 tackles per game at a 90%+ completion rate. Scoring chances will be at a premium for Scotland and they will have to take pretty much every opportunity to get points on the board if they want to win.
  • Lineout tendencies
    During last season’s 6 Nations, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric were the primary options for the Welsh lineout. In their absence fellow back-row Aaron Shingler has taken up the mantle in this area with 18 takes in his last 3 games. At 6’6″ but lighter than most locks he’s easier to get in the air quickly and Scotland will have to be wary how they mark up at the setpiece.
  • Steff Evans
    There are areas Scotland will look to exploit when they are in possession. Steff Evans is a superb attacking player and leads most ball in hand statistical categories in the PRO14. The defensive demands of Test rugby are something he is still adapting to though having missed 10 of 22 tackles in the Autumn. Tommy Seymour in particular must look to put the Welsh winger under pressure.
  • Josh Navidi
    He may not be a stereotypical big, bruising back row carrier but Josh Navidi gave Wales a very handy second option in support of Taulupe Faletau in the Autumn, totalling 31 carries in 3 matches. The question will be if Ross Moriarty can take on the Faletau role or if the Gloucester player’s greater focus on destructive defensive duties mean Navidi has to become the main man for trucking it up in attack.

Previous results

This will be the 10th time the two sides have met at the Principality / Millenium Stadium in the 6 Nations with the head to head looking very ugly from Scotland’s perspective:

L W L    L L L    L L L

That solitary win came 16 years ago at the end of the 2002 tournament with a try double from Gordon Bulloch and the remaining points from the boots of Duncan Hodge and Brendan ‘Chainsaw’ Laney.  Current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was at 10 that day with Wales attack coach Rob Howley featuring as the home side’s scrum-half. Toony will be hoping he can put one over on Howley again this Saturday.

Most recent meeting in Cardiff:

Wales 27 – 23 Scotland

18 players return from that fixture – 9 for each side. The starting XVs show 21 changes with those alterations being almost evenly split between absence through injury and fluctuations in form.

Stuart Hogg is among the returning players and Scotland’s danger man will be hoping for better fortune than on his previous visits to the Principality Stadium. It may have been the venue for his Test debut in 2012 but that match saw him have a perfectly good try chalked off. 2014 was his red card for a bad challenge on Dan Biggar. On Scotland’s last trip to Cardiff in 2016 Hoggy only lasted 28 minutes before succumbing to injury.

The back to back winner of the 6 Nations player of the tournament may have only played 5 matches this season for club and country but he already has 4 tries – and he’s certainly the man to go to for a team that is looking for a flying start. His scores this season have come at the following times:

Glasgow v Leinster – 15mins 53secs
Glasgow v Kings – 0m 47s
Scotland v Samoa – 1m 32s
Glasgow v Exeter – 1m 08s


Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant 1: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant 2: Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)

From a Scottish point of view there will be no excuse for not knowing what to expect from M. Gauzere on Saturday – the French whistler will be taking charge of a Scotland match for the 4th time in their last 8 Tests. He is also down to be the man in the middle for the final day clash with Italy in this tournament making it even more important to keep on his good side.

In terms of the numbers Scotland have done reasonably well with their discipline in their previous encounters with M. Gauzere but it is noticeable that he does like a card…

  • 2014 v USA (A)
    Total penalties: 23 (+9 in Scotland’s favour)
    Cards: USA 1 YC
  • 2015 v Ireland (A)
    Pens: 18 (-2 against Scotland)
    Cards: none
  • 2016 v Ireland (A)
    Pens: 22 (even)
    Cards: SCO 2 YC (Barclay, Dunbar) IRE 1 YC
  • 2017 v Italy (H)
    Pens: 22 (-4 against Scotland)
    Cards: SCO 1 YC (Barclay)
  • 2017 v Fiji (A)
    Pens: 23 (+7 for Scotland)
    Cards: SCO 1 YC (Strauss) FIJ 2 YCs
  • 2017 v Australia (H)
    Pens: 18 (even)
    Cards: AUS 1 RC + 1 YC

62 Responses

  1. The number of passes is interesting but surely needs to be looked at in the context of metres made.

    1. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
      There is no point in looking at what happened last year, or even in the AIs, as these are two completely different sides – mostly because of injuries. Our front-row has been decimated but Wales look like their 2nd string. I feel for my Welsh friends. No, really I do!

    2. I usually look at it in terms of the ratio of passes to carries – but the numbers were pretty consistent anyway and I was trying not to get too nerdy!

      For those games in the Autumn Wales averaged 1.39 passes per carry whereas Scotland were 1.25 passes per carry. For a bit of context in the PRO14 Scarlets are 1.47 passes per carry and Glasgow 1.25.

      So with more Scarlets in the backline it’s possible there might be even more keeping the ball moving from the Welsh on Saturday.

  2. I think the Welsh players are on incredible form at the moment and at home you’ve got to fancy them but one advantage we(Scotland) have is that our captain plays with 10 of their starting line-up on a weekly basis and if their is anyone knows their weakness’s and how to exploit them at this level it should be him. Especially considering Parkes, Patchell and Evans have barely any international experience

  3. I will be severely disappointed if we lose on Saturday. That is, for the first time in 2 decades I am expecting us to win in Wales. We should have won in 2016 but for an overlooked offside from Gareth Davies (smug git) and losing Hoggy after half an hour. Wales are without so many of their stars who can turn a game (Webb, Biggar, North, Davies, Faletau, Warburton) that we should win by at least two scores.
    Hubris? Over-confidence? I’m not underestimating them but to get within 4 points last time, then demolishing them at home in 2017, I am soooo looking forward to breaking the 16-year duck.

  4. I’m too long a Scotland rugby fan to expect us to win on Saturday, although i certainly think we’ve got it in us. I’ve just got too many terrible memories of games in Cardiff, i’m not sure i’ll ever get over 2010.

    With 2010 in mind, my dearest hope that we beat them soundly; like a prison-shaming. I want the Welsh to meet a free-flowing rugby team playing at its peak; for them to be so well beaten that they can’t talk to one another afterwards; that Howley is caught on camera, weeping on the shoulders of a visibly shell-shocked Warren Gatland; that the Welsh faithful can’t even bring themselves to utter one note of Bread of Heaven at their next game, so fraught are they by the experience we put them through; I want the next episode of Scrum V to consist solely of Jiffy and co just staring into space, unable to articulate their despair, Jiffy just whispering ‘how?’ under his breath.

    If we manage that, I might finally be able to believe we can go the whole way, and I can put the horror of that game 7 years ago behind me.

    1. If SRB ran a competition for best post of the Six Nations you would surely be the clear favourite with that one!

  5. I would have the roof open in Wales, i back our skillset in bad weather over theirs if both are looking to play an expansive game and it will help kill the atmosphere that boosts the welsh.

    1. forecast is good today but light rain from 2 am till kick off. Then no rain, so if it is on just now, it can come off a few hours before KO imo. Light rain often means no rain just a threat.

  6. I think in all fairness Wales do have a quality team so I wouldn’t dismiss them but they are just so inexperienced and haven’t played a lot together. I think our team has a lot more togetherness and chemistry.

    Having said that Patchell has arguably been the best fly-half in the Pro14 this season, Steff Evans and Josh Adams have been two of the best wingers in their respect leagues, Gareth Davies has gone up a level and is a quality scrum half. In the front row they have 3 experienced quality players who play together on a weekly basis at Scarlet, Alun Wyn Jones who is quality and then Moriarty and Navidi who are both fantastic players.

    As I say it’s a team lacking in experience with 4 of their starting 15 having 5 or less caps, 6 with 10 or less and 9 with 20 or less and I think that will get us over the line. But with some quality players and with Wales playing at home – somewhere we have a poor record at – I can’t see us winning by more than 7 pts.

    1. Tbh I feel the opposite. Their chemistry and our inexperience have me worried.

      Their back line is basically the scarlet’s back line with an all scarlet’s front row and in terms of experience we have only 332 caps in our XV. Wales have 429. Still think we can sneak a win though.

  7. Combined Wales and Scotland 15 from teams selected.

    1. Evans
    2. McInally
    3. Lee
    4. J.Gray
    5. AWJ
    6. Barclay
    7. Watson
    8. Moriarty
    9. Price
    10. Russell
    11. Adams
    12. Scott Williams
    13. Huw Jones
    14. Tommy Seymour
    15. Stuart Hogg

    Wales have some Brilliant players but 9 of the 15 being Scotland players you’ve got to fancy us despite having such a poor record there. Wouldn’t dismiss what a quality front row wales have in evans, owens and lee. Reid and Welsh are experienced pros but you would still expect Wales to have an advantage here so hopefully we don’t concede too many penalties.

  8. Why the open roof choice ? I don’t get the logic in that at all. Heavy rain in Cardiff at mid-day and rain all afternoon.

    Seems to play into the Welsh hands.

    1. Perhaps this is just Toony saying, ‘ Oh, I see they want to close the roof. OK then, let’s keep it open, we are prepared to play them in any conditions.’ An early mind game point scored possibly.
      In any case, I read somewhere else recently that last year, when Wales agreed to Ireland’s request to open the roof, the ground staff under instruction watered it into a bog anyway.
      Gatland wanted Toony on his Lions staff and didn’t get him. Now he wants the roof shut and won’t get that either.
      I know it’s as much as a risk for us to play in wet conditions as it is for them, but at least it will reduce the home crowd’s decibel count. And I do believe we can play them in any conditions.

    2. From what I read earlier, Townsend said that Gatland wants the roof closed. GT would prefer to have the roof open unless it’s going to be wet, in which case he would ask for it to be closed.

  9. Yes mssbstrd! 2010 was the second worst Scotland game I have ever watched. I don’t want Scotland to win on Saturday, I want them to run away with it ala the ozzies last autumn. On a personal level Welsh people are charming, some of my best friends are Welsh (honest), but when it comes to rugby they’re complete c***s, well over due a 80 minute pumping.

    As long as the front row doesn’t disintegrate I think we’ve a great chance (emphasis on chance) of dominating. Second row / back row look strong, need a big game from Seymour, he’s over due it and interesting to see my colleagues mate, Harris get a run out. Good luck to him.

    As a side hope Mark Bennett gets back to pre injury form that made him best 13 in the world according to some kiwi journalist.

  10. Firstly a wee sentence on Harris from my Falcons season ticket holder mate ” been tremendous defensively, great engine, quite a handful going forward due to his strength”

    To the game it is without question this is a game we can win, we should shut the roof (only tell them as late as physically possible). Our backs have proven themselves over the last 2 years to be capable of scoring tries @ international level. In Hogg & Russell we have 2 genuinely world class operators. The key to them getting time/space is ,of course, for us to get at least parity up front.
    I do think the Welsh are caught between 2 styles & can look bemused when things don’t go quite their way. The way their team is set up they probably will look to run but what will Gatlands tactics be??
    I would not be surprised to see some Garryowens go up early doors targeting Hogg (a dangerous ploy)
    I’d like DuPreez to get on the ball too, his skill set can cause the ordinary Welsh back row real headaches.

    Hasn’t Patchell played @ 15 as much as he’s played 10 this season?

    Thanks a bunch Mssvbstrd I’d banished 2010 to the furthest darkest corner of my mind!!!!!!!!

      1. Wasn’t the worst that particular nightmare occurred 12th March 2005…………………..and yes Wales were involved again. Only time I’ve ever left a Scotland game early (1/2 time)

      2. John, I brought my American wife-to-be to that 2005 game to help her ‘understand my world’. We were a few minutes late and by the time we took our seats, Scotland were already 93-0 down, or something similar. She still isn’t into rugby, but ever since that experience, she’s always been unusually sympathetic to me when Scotland lose. It’s pretty confusing for her now that Scotland are doing much better…

      3. I remember not knowing what was worse – watching Scotland lose a try every 8 seconds or the supercilious Welsh fans preening one another. Matt Williams was the worst coach we’ve ever had

      4. Watching the last Calcutta Cup with my English in-laws during a family event was pretty painful for me.

        And going two tries down to Italy at home in about 5 minutes and then at the end of the game realising that they’d also out scored us for the remaining 75 minutes was a pretty shameful experience as well.

      5. James, it was worse, it was 3 tries! I was at the game but arrived a few mins late, I thought the scoreboard was wrong when it said 0-14 after about 3mins, then they scored again and the reality set in…

  11. Something akin to fake news a couple of hours ago about an open roof. Just read it will definitely be closed for the match.

    1. Just Gatland being a stupid arse as usual trying to play ‘mind games’.

      Basically the roof stays open unless both sides agree to close it. Gatland told Townshend he wanted it closed, Townshend said let’s wait and see the short term weather forecast on Thursday and keep it open if it’s dry, Gatland threw his toys out of the pram and told the Welsh press Townshend insisted on it being open. It’s all stupid BS – closed is a much louder more intimidating environment so Toonie didn’t want to agree unless it was necessary. Why it is beyond Gatland to not act like a total irritant is beyond me.

      1. Agreed, just play the game and stop all the nonsense. He was quick enough to disapprove when the focus was on him during the Lions tour. Perhaps the SRU should have provided all travelling fans with placards with that clown picture on it to wave during the game!

  12. Do you think the bookies might take a bet on the referee making an incorrect call that loses Scotland the game? Always happens vs Wales. Their gamesmanship has been way ahead of ours and refs always seem to give them the benefit of the doubt when playing us. Extremely frustrating.

  13. I believe we have this game but I think the biggest threat to the team is the Welsh managing to get under their skin and making them lose their cool…Welsh are pretty good at that.

    So hoping the boys will stay the course and ignore the jibes to bring victory were it is sorely needed to develop their confidence to the next step.

    1. Agreed, we need 15 players on the pitch at all times and everyone focussed on their role. No room for mistakes in this one as it is going to be close.

  14. Is it too soon to start the annual petition to have Butler, Davis and Guscott removed from the BBC rugby team? I really hope a cracking game on Saturday isn’t ruined by the beeb commentary team and “expert” panellists.

    1. Talking of experts, I second the recommendation by someone (cant remember who) – who mentioned ‘The 1014 Rugby’ youtube analyst – they are very good!

    2. Don’t really care about them, they’re just bitter old men. Forget the 6N and Welsh people in general, the only reason I want us to beat Wales is to annoy Jiffy, it wouldn’t be the same without him.

      Inverdale on the other hand, now he really does annoy me.

  15. Cymru will not be contesting the roof decision , we know we are not at our best this season, it is just a game, if you don’t get it this time, I will eat my leek. Good luck for Saturday. The best team will win . Pob lwc.

  16. I love and hate this game. I love it, as it always seems like an open try fest (at least in 6N terms). I hate it because Mrs thebigiam is Welsh. She’s not the most magnanimous in victory, and as I found out last year, it was a nightmare when we won. Proper damned if you do, damned if you don’t stuff…

    Feeling a bit less confident than I did about this one a couple of weeks ago, when I thought we’d be facing the likes of Biggar, JimBob et al. But I think Wales may be more adventurous and dangerous than we’re expecting because of all the injuries. Mrs thebigiam, on the other hand, is indulging in Gatland-like mind games, and claiming Scotland are favourites…

    I’m expecting a high scoring game – and maybe one too close to call. I’m hoping for a Scotland win – I think its vital that we win for our prospects this year – and that Monday morning comes around quickly!

    1. All the talk in Wales is how Scarletts will beat Scotland however they think Gatland will play a tight game. They dont want to play a kicking game as Scotland will rip them apart in the open. If Gatland wants to target the scrum he has to pin us in our half, build pressure and force handling errors.

      Scotland need to do the simple things well.

  17. I think even though we win it in the backs we could lose it if our scrum isn’t at parity.

    But looking at the BBC article on Jon Welsh it sheds some light. Welsh plays for Falcons who are 3rd in their League. Surely you don’t get there without a decent scrum and I think both Reid and Welsh have their strength In the set piece. So I think they will win comfortably or Wales sneek over with pressure telling.

  18. All the talk of Scotland being favourites is just that – talk. All the bookies have Wales as favourites by 2-3 points. The World Rankings have Wales (with the +3 for being at home) as favourites 85.08 to 84.11. The spread is currently Wales by 1.5-3.5. So I have sold at 1.5!
    If it’s close, I see Wales snatching it. However if it opens up I have us by two scores (10-12).

    1. Merlot, where does the +3 for home advantage come from? I’m interested to know how they (World Rugby?) calculated that.

      Alanyst, does that +3 correspond with home/away win-loss statistics?

      1. Hi Andrew — I don’t know.

        Some time ago I looked at long-term rankings differentials and long-term win/loss ratios…

        I didn’t account for home/away/neutral as I assumed it averaged out over 1o years

        A difference of 5 was associated with a 25/75 split….over 10 essentially 0/100…the pattern is clear at large differentials.

        Between -5 and 5 the “pattern” is like a left-rotated Z…a flat bit (50/50) between -2 and 2 and then a very scattered vertical spread between 2 and 5.

        So, I suppose its consistent with teams typically “trading” wins if differential is less than 2-3 or so (probably on a H/A basis)…and more or less anything can happen in the 2 to 5 differential band.

        This is also screwed up precisely because of the +3 rule – the effect of which is included in the data used.

        Another important caveat is of course that rankings represent past performances. While I think they are a fair reflection of a sustained quality level, they do not have predictive power for matches, except at a very probabilistic level.

        Finally, although the Scotland team is somewhat settled, the Wales team is virtually a new team – so their ranking means very little in terms of describing tomorrow’s team.

        So in short…I guess it just depends what happens on the day….should know in about 25 hours!

    2. Just to be clear, the +3 refers to world rugby ranking points, not points in matches. The closeness of the ranking points means that it’s pretty even, but with Wales being at home they are marginal favourites. If it were at a neutral venue we would be marginal favourites.
      My point was that 1) The bookies make Wales slight favourites (to win by 2 or 3 points) 2) the World Rugby rankings make Wales slight favourites and 3) Nobody really knows, but I have bet on a big Scottish win!!!

      1. Thanks to you both for such helpful answers. I think the point about Wales’ team tomorrow being so new does make something of a mockery of ranking points and statistical probability. Not sure which way this will go but quietly confident that if we play relatively error-free rugby we should have the beating of them.

      2. I think they are meaningful…but they measure the “momentum” of that nation’s system…mass x velocity.

  19. I think a word of thanks to Richard Cockerill and Dean Richards for working so hard in getting a significant number of our forwards (and some backs) up to international standard. Yes, partly tongue in cheek, but I think they’ve made a big difference to the all round play of guys like Welsh, Harris, McCallum and McInally. Cheers boys.

    1. Nope…that’s kinetic energy (x 2)…Anyway this is not a classical mechanics blog…

      Point is bigger unions have depth (mass) to sustain a decent ranking despite maybe being in the doldrums for a year or two.

      For smaller unions (Scotland) its more boom and bust depending on the rate talent comes along (velocity)

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