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.
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.
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)
- 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