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Wales v Scotland: Autumn Tests 2018 Match Preview pt II – head to heads

Stuart McInally
Stuart McInally is congratulated by teammates after scoring his second try for Scotland vs Samoa at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Thirteen Tests left before the Rugby World Cup kicks off. Thirteen matches for Gregor Townsend to make sure he’s left no stone unturned in evaluating potential players – but also to make sure the group he does take to Japan have sufficient experience, individually and as combinations, of the cauldron that is international rugby. It all kicks off on Saturday – here are the Wales v Scotland head to heads.

Tale of the tape

74   Tries   39
278   Total caps   121
1   Test debuts   0
28.6   Average age   26.2

897kg   Pack weight   878kg
360   Total caps  167
   Test debuts   0
28.0   Average age   27.2

57   Total caps   111
   Test debuts   1
23.4   Average age   25.7

11 Scotland changes from last Test (v Argentina)

  • 15 / 14 / 11 – Seymour and L. Jones for Hogg and Fife with Kinghorn moving to 15 [-]
  • 13 – H. Jones for Grigg [+]
  • 12 – Dunbar for P. Horne [+]
  • 9 – Price for G. Horne [=]
  • 3 – Nel for Berghan [+]
  • 4 – Toolis for Swinson [+]
  • 5 – J. Gray for Gilchrist [+]
  • 6 – Ritchie for Bradbury [-]
  • 7 – Watson for Brown [+]
  • 8 – Wilson for Denton [+]

15 Leigh Halfpenny
14 George North
13 Jonathan Davies
12 Hadleigh Parkes
11 Luke Morgan
10 Gareth Anscombe
9 Gareth Davies
ADV Wales
ADV Wales
ADV Scotland
ADV Wales
15 Blair Kinghorn
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Huw Jones
12 Alex Dunbar
11 Lee Jones
10 Adam Hastings
9 Ali Price

1 Nicky Smith
2 Ken Owens
3 Dillon Lewis
4 Cory Hill
5 Alun Wyn Jones
6 Dan Lydiate
7 Justin Tipuric
8 Ross Moriarty

ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Wales
ADV Scotland
ADV Wales

1 Allan Dell
2 Stuart McInally
3 Willem Nel
4 Ben Toolis
5 Jonny Gray
6 Jamie Ritchie
7 Hamish Watson
8 Ryan Wilson

16 Elliot Dee
17 Rob Evans
18 Leon Brown
19 Adam Beard
20 Aaron Wainwright
21 Tomos Williams
22 Jarrod Evans
23 Steff Evans

ADV Scotland
ADV Wales
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Wales

16 Fraser Brown
17 Alex Allan
18 Simon Berghan
19 Grant Gilchrist
20 Matt Fagerson
21 George Horne
22 Peter Horne
23 Darcy Graham


Backs – advantage Wales
The Glasgow backline that tackled Saracens returns to action – with King Blairhorn standing in at full back instead of Ruaridh Jackson which should add a bit more zip in attack. Similar to that game though (the first in 46 matches in which the Warriors failed to score a try) there’s likely to be very little space to operate. Scotland themselves will need to find a way to counter the Welsh pace and power when the dark blues are defending.

Forwards – advantage Scotland
Wales are men down in the front row and back row. Scotland are not hampered to nearly the same extent. Quite simply the visitors have to take advantage – the winning or losing of the game could well come from the quality of ball emerging from the setpiece and breakdown. Even with the lightest pack of the Townsend era the Scots still have the personnel in place to put it on a plate for the backs if they can get their gameplan and discipline right.

Subs – advantage Scotland
Rob Evans aside, the Welsh subs are very raw. If the game is still in the balance at 50 minutes and beyond Gregor Townsend is likely to feel more confident about emptying his bench to keep the pace and intensity of the game high.


Darcy Graham will be the 63rd player and 17th international debutant to feature in the Toony Test era (15 matches).

– There are only 10 survivors from the Scotland 23 that went down heavily in Cardiff during the 6 Nations – 3 backs, 4 forwards and 3 from the bench that day (12 returnees for Wales).

– After averaging just 4 changes to his starting line-up per game across the 6 Nations, Gregor Townsend has made 11 alterations per match over the last four ‘friendly’ Tests.

– Despite missing all 3 games in the summer, John Barclay has still played more minutes (820) than anyone else in the Townsend era. There are some big boots to fill at blindside flanker for Jamie Ritchie – and there’s an equally big opportunity for the young man.

– Scotland’s top try scorers since Toony took over:

1    Huw Jones – centre (6)
2= Stuart McInally – hooker (4)
2= Sean Maitland – wing / full back (4)
2= George Turner – hooker (4)
5= Ross Ford – hooker (3)
5= Blair Kinghorn – wing / full back (3)
5= Byron McGuigan – wing (3)

52 Responses

  1. Good article but I would suggest you are possibly be generous with some of the head to heads;

    • Big fan of Blair Kinghorn, but he’s played 5 times for Scotland. I believe this will be his first time at FB at international level given he’s only played on the wing for national team so far. He’s against a player who has played 78x for his country and is a 3x lions tourist. As I say big fan of Blair and I think he’ll go on to have a great future in the game, but as things stand, massive advantage to Wales.

    • Hastings – Similar to Kinghorn only has a handful of caps and arguably this is his first proper season as a pro player, after being a bit part at Bath and last season at Glasgow behind Finn and Horne. Anscombe on the other hand has played 18 times for Wales and has a wealth of experience after playing in Super Rugby and Cardiff. Granted not all of those games have been at 10, but he’s still got that experience under his belt. Advantage Wales

    • AWJ vs Gray – I know AWJ is getting on a bit, but he has huge amounts of experience and the last time the two went head to head (this years 6 nations) AWJ came out on top. I’d have to say again advantage Wales.

    Also not totally sure Wilson is an improvement on Denton, but that’s just personal opinion.

    Other than that, as I say good article

    1. I have to agree with this. That Welsh lineup is quite comfortably better than ours.

      Although having said that, I thought the Scottish lineup in Feb was better than Wales’ and I was proven spectacularly wrong. I’m hoping I am again tomorrow…

    2. Agree with all your comments Rich. I would say (and have in a previous post) that Wales have the advantage in the back 3 and at halfbacks, as well as the back row in the forwards. Things are pretty even in the centres and second-rows, and we only have a slight advantage in the front row. Overall I think Wales will come out on top. The big advantage for us, as the article suggests, in on the bench. If we are within a score when the subs start appearing we have a good chance. However I think Wales will be over the horizon by then and it will be consolation tries. Hope not.

    3. Fair points, but when was the last time AWJ had an amazing game? 2014? And did he actually outplay Gray – who was his usual excellent self in that match – or did his team outplay Gray’s?

      There aren’t that many Welsh players that I’d take over their Scottish counterparts. I mean, when was the last time Lydiate had a good game? Even the Welsh fans don’t want him playing (from what I’ve seen on comment boards), and Moriarty has had literally one game in which he looked decent, and that was only because he knocked Nathan Hughes back in a couple of tackles, a feat that can only be achieved by Leviathans like Moriarty and de Klerk.

      I’m not saying we will or even should win – I think we’ll lose by a couple of scores – but our problem since 2014 hasn’t been the quality of our players as much as it’s been the consistency of our performances (hell, in 2016 we were absolutely robbed of a victory by an inept Irish referee…). Ali Price was on fire in 2017, and in the equivalent piece to this before the last Cardiff match Davies was (quite generously) marked as even with Price. One pass is all it took from Price to go from hero to also-ran, despite some epic performances from him. If Townsend and his team (and Cockers/Rennie and their teams) can get the psychology right, we’ll be a rugby force. Sadly, that seems like a pretty tough task.

      Also, I think Gatland and his boys are better at adapting their gameplan, whereas Toonie’s stated mission to play the fastest rugby in the world means that our style of play is generally more limited in that we don’t seem to be able to mix it up to the same extent.

      Anyway, I think I’ve run out of parentheses, so… Hopefully it’ll be a good game!

    4. Cheers Rich – always good to get different opinions! Well argued so I’ll try and outline my defence below:

      15 – This isn’t Halfpenny of 5 years ago though. It’s not even Halfpenny of a couple of years ago. In defence you’d still prefer him in your team over Kinghorn but once you’re in possession you’d definitely want Blair. Even is maybe a bit bullish but I think it’s a close battle with one player declining (from very high standards) and one constantly improving – and full back is Kinghorn’s best position as we’re really shoehorning him in on the wing just to get him in the team.

      For me Anscombe is better at 15. He’s filling in due to the absences of Biggar and Patchell. If Jarrod Evans had a bit more experience then the way Cardiff Blues use them with Evans at 10 and Anscombe at 15 probably works better. Hastings is the form 10 in the PRO14. This is a definite step up but nothing phases him. I’d have gone advantage Wales if their 1st or 2nd choice was in there but I think Hastings is close enough to Anscombe to call it even.

      I’d say although Scotland got smashed Gray’s individual performance was better than AWJ’s in the 6 Nations game – more carries, more metres, more defenders beaten, more tackles, no missed tackles (AWJ missed 3). Jonny is so consistent. He maybe couldn’t pull out a huge Lions performance like AWJ has done in the past – but I don’t see an Autumn Test in a RWC year being one of the games the Welshman does that in.

      1. Agree, these head to head winners are all over the place and to say tinged with blue would be an understatement. This is a stronger Wales team than us in almost all areas except front row where I’d say it’s fairly even. To put Jones on par with Davies as a draw is nonsense. Huw Jones swings from world class game breaker to anonymous up against the lions player of the series (justifiably so) who has been excellent since his return from injury. Wales are also less affected by the restrictions on player availability due to Gatland law. I may be forgetting some but I only see Biggar, Williams and Adams missing from those who will be available next week, and Biggar wouldn’t start these days anyway? Charteris won’t be involved, Faletau is injured and Webb is ineligible full stop. Perhaps Roberts?

      2. Jon Davies is inconsistent as well – he only recaptured his good form in 2017 after 2 or 3 years of anonymity. As others have noted, his try scoring record is pretty terrible and being a 2013 or 2017 B&IL is only indicative of not being Scottish-qualified. James Haskell is a B&IL, for God’s sake…

      3. JP – there are 5 exiles in the Welsh squad of 36. 9 in the Scottish squad of 41. Wales are more impacted by injuries. They’re playing their 3rd choice props against our 1st choices (granted Dell doesn’t have that locked down 100% and Nel has missed a lot of action). In the back row they’re without Faletau, Jenkins, Navidi, Shingler and Davies. Scotland’s route to winning the game is beating an understrength Welsh pack at the setpiece and breakdown. They could end up finishing the game with 5 Dragons in the forwards!

  2. 74/278=0.266; 39/121 = 0.322


    Say what you want about experience, our backs score 20% more tries…

    If the forwards can provide opportunities, we have the firepower to capitalise.

  3. Agree with Rich above. This feels like the Wales match 9 months ago when this place was awash with optimism and folk saying our players are better than Wales’s. People saying Chris Harris and McGuigan were going to run riot at the Principality.

    1. This place isn’t at all awash with the kind of optimism that preceded our humping in Cardiff this year.

      The general drift is that although this is a good 23 that can be very competitive tomorrow, we’re up against another good 23, away from home, and with a poor record in Cardiff going back some 16 years.

      I was totally bullish about our chances in the run up to Cardiff in February, so no result predictions from me this time.

      Good thing is, the strength of both squads should make for a proper Test match, not a gentle run out.

  4. When doing the ‘head to head’ would it not be more more appropriate to compare players who will be in direct opposition to each other:
    Right wing v Left Wing; and vice versa
    Loose Head v Tighthead; and vice versa
    Lock front jumper against opposite number; and Lock middle jumper v direct opponent
    Scotland have an theoretical advantage in the front row , and a more experienced bench, but it would be a major upset were Scotland to win, given the inexperience of the team.

    1. I’ve used both methods but generally I’ve used the direct comparison so I guess it’s more looking at which player is better in their respective positions. Makes it a bit easier to follow for listing the line-ups for easy viewing as well.

      I’d be interested to know if there’s a general consensus / preference either way though as it would be easy enough to switch.

    2. Yes , is that not exciting, we are not favoured !

      The welsh crowd must be overjoyed at the prospect of mocking our naive fans. I hope the party is in full swing when we pull the plug. I can just hear how ‘it is not a propa interrnashinaal boyo’.

      While I thank the almighty for rugby, I think him more, that we have more than rugby to define ourselves.

  5. I think we’ll give a good account of ourselves, and at least we can reflect that Wales are less affected than we are by being outside the international window. With the extra talent we can bring in for the “real” AIs, we are not in too bad a place.

  6. The Huw Jones v’s Davies rating must have been a hard one Kevin!.

    Davies (71 caps 13 tries) experienced, hard to stop.

    Huw Jones (16 caps 10 tries) is a the type of player we see every other decade. He is too good actually and not into self promotion. I can see problems for him in the future.

    The big risk for me is Price , I think the pressure on him to overcome his ghosts will be too much.

    1. Yeah one of those ones I spend far too long thinking about and change 2 or 3 times before pressing publish! Davies hasn’t had much game time since the Lions but when he’s on form he’s one of the few players in the world even the All Blacks would covet. Would love to see Huw get to that level.

      1. Yep , Likewise, I tried to convince myself it was even , then came to the same conclusion. Davies has too much experience.

      2. I’m going to disagree. I think Huw Jones is a special player. Only one with credit from Twickenham, MOM currie cup, Australia debut, England this year. A bit of pre-season and a rest and he’s tearing things up at Glasgow. Davies is awesome, but when you look at what they can both potentially do difficult to say who is better. On current form though…

    2. If your looking at those stats, if Huw Jones could carry on his current Try Scoring form he’d have 44.375 tries by the time he gets to 71 caps. Don’t get me wrong, Davies is an excellent player but the statistics you’re quoting favour Jones over Davies. Will be interesting.

      1. As long as he is enjoying his rugby , his performance will be sustainable. If he is shoehorned into a game that does not suit his style , it could suppress his obvious vigour and undoubted talent.

  7. Great article. Looking forward to tomorrow. Nearly at Cardiff now.

    Don’t let Wales get away early and it’ll be close. Remember we had a very fast start last year. Lost it with one bad error. Hope lessons have been learned.

    And amazingly we have 3 hookers in the top five of the try scorers. Fraser Brown must have a couple too. More from them in a dominant scrum drive over the line and we’ll be fine.

  8. Great game from Edinburgh.

    No weak player from 1-23.

    Standout players for me.

    Bill Mata, Tom Brown, Henry Pyrgos(BoxKicking masterclass)

    Shout out to Ross Ford also for chasing down that 13 down the wing and saving a try.

    Youngster CHH had a good game and that Callum Atkinson is a giant.

  9. 11 tries for hookers since Toony Took over and Fraser Brown not amongst them !!
    What was that about not playing an extra hooker in the back row. LOL !!!

  10. Definitely lots of calls that could go the other way in the starting teams – which theoretically could make this a really close game.

    There are 2 factors that could change things: 1 home advantage -Massive plus for Wales, Scotland need to start showing they can take their home form on the road and get rid of the nagging doubts about playing away. 2 the bench – Scotland’s bench is without a doubt much stronger than Wales (which is a strange luxury for us!). If we can stay with them for the first 60, I can see us finishing much more strongly and pulling away.

    Genuinely no idea how this will play out.

    1. If we can silence the crowd early, the weight of the crowd expectation becomes their monkey. There is no finer sight than seeing a losing welshman.

  11. The match up ratings are largely irrelevant – this game is all physiological. Both Scottish teams won last night playing explosive, attractive rugby that the welsh teams did not have an answer to. We have settled forwards (largely Edinburgh) and a Glasgow back line that are some margin ahead of everyone else in the pro-14. Our finishers are more experienced and higher quality. This should be a Scotland win by some margin if our game management is correct.

  12. How/why is the welsh defence up so fast on our ball but we hold and allow them to run onto us? They seem much more aggressive and we’re getting no momentum when they are building momentum with every phase.

    Also, Eddie Butler is ruining this for me!

  13. Kinda feel Scotland are holding back atm and just looking to keep the contest close until the subs come onto impact.

    Scrum and Driving maul only going to get stronger for us.

    Expecting a very dominant performance in the 2nd half from us.

    1. Wales look to be dominating physical contest to me so far, notable exception our lineout maul. Hastings struggling with welsh rush defence and welsh kicking game superior.

      In saying that, if we get over the gain line and get a bit of momentum no reason we can’t get back into this.

      1. Hastings struggling with welsh rush defence

        That was always going to happen so why was this NOT planned for?

    1. I’m not sure it’s all his fault; that last one looked like the inside defence was too bunched.

    1. Very frustrating to watch. If only all our forwards played with the intensity of Hamish Watson.

  14. Well that was very disappointing – we did enough to win in terms of creating opportunities but couldn’t handle welsh defence and nous at the breakdown. Still need to beef up pack.

  15. Every time we play Wales it’s the same: their defence is fast and aggressive and we can’t live with it and we make mistakes or go backwards. Our defence is passive and they build momentum.

    They just always seem look like they want to win more than we do.

    Some cracking individual performances but not enough team cohesion, probably due to the Welsh defence.

  16. Would not be to dissapointed, we have had far worse results here, Good hit out for the young boys, Kinghorn solid at full back, 1-2 moments not taking the trys cost us.

    Hastings done well enough considering on the back foot in attack mostly.

    Things to work on.

    Go Forward Carriers.

    A Bradbury, Gilchrist in that situation would have given the backs more opportunities to attack on the front foot.

    A little better game management but not bad considering the inexperience at 10.

  17. Once again we were beaten by a far more streetwise team playing on the edge and getting away with it, although I didn’t think the referee was consistent and we suffered more than them from that. Why don’t we seem to have the line speed of the other top international teams? We had enough ball, however, to win the match but still can’t stay calm under pressure. Impressed with Dunbar, Hastings, G Horne, Brown, McInally and Watson.

  18. Hastings kicked away possession that should never have been kicked but held passed and built upon. Although much can be considered to have caused the defeat. He changes that we win today. Why kick it away on half-time with turn over ball? Why kick it away at all in midfield turnover ball?

    Crazy stuff I’m afraid.

  19. Kevin Millar are you a troll. English like vanity is not something I want to see on here. Blair Kinghorn and Adam Hastings equal to Halfpenny and Anscombe are you having a laugh.

    I’m a huge fan of Kinghorn and Hastings and think they both have huge potential but to say right now they are equal to Halfpenny and Anscombe is just ludicrous.

    This is more ridiculous and infuriating than when England fans were claiming Brown and Robshaw were better players than Hogg and Watson.

    Kinghorn can do some incredible things in attack, but he can still make some silly mistakes, and makes plenty of simple of defensive mistakes and apart from the Ireland match and today has not been tested at International level.

    Halfpenny on the other hand is a guy who has been there and done it, won international championships, had over international 80 international caps, 3 lions tours etc.. Yes Kinghorn is probably better with ball in hand but that’s just 1 aspect of Rugby.

    Halfpenny as well as being the best defensive full-back in the world is probably the best tactical kicker in the game.

    You seen it in the 1st game in February. Completely took Hogg out of the game by intelligently never kicking it to him. Done the same to Kinghorn and Seymour today. Whenever he clears it he always sends it to either the man in the worst position or the weakest attacker. Taking the oppositions most dangerous players out the game all the time and not allowing them to settle. Halfpenny’s defensive skills are so strong that apart from Hogg, Foleau and McKenzie there isn’t a full back i’d want more in my team than Halfpenny.

    And this is Hastings 1st season as a 1st choice 10. Anscombe has been a 1st choice fly-half both for Cardiff and in Super Rugby and putting consistent top quality performances for about 6 years.

    Sorry but some of your head to heads are embarrassing and very disrespectful.

    1. Blake do you always have to be such a Romain Poite to people when giving your opinion ? The guy put alot of effort into his post and Kinghorn and Hastings have been on better form ‘this’ season than those 2 so that may be his reasoning.

      To suggest people are trolling just because you disagree with them is childish and rude.

      1. Neil you are just as abrasive and mean to others when giving your opinion so you are being hypocritical.

        Imagine if the English were claiming some English guy who had only broken into his clubs starting XV over the past 15 months and hadn’t even been tested at international level was equal a solid experienced international like Greig Laidlaw or John Barclay. You’d rightly be fuming.

        There is having an opinion and then there is just being plain stupid and arrogant. This on the level of the English claiming Brown was better than Hogg a few seasons ago. Just Ludicrous.

        I grew up in a period when we were not very good at Rugby and had to go through the constant cockiness of the English having the cheek to claim one of their worst players was better than one of our best despite the fact many of these players they targeted were pretty good and far better than anyone in an England shirt.

        Just feel this guy epitomizes typical English arrogance and vanity and deserves some criticism.

    2. No not a troll. Not English. Not vain. Not stupid. Definitely not arrogant. I’ve explained further up about why I picked some of the head to heads the way I did. I’m not holding myself out as some oracle who has everything correct. It’s actually pretty nerve-wracking for me putting the stuff I write out in public so while I’m more than happy for anyone to disagree with me and I’ll try and get involved in debating any points they want if you could keep the personal insults to yourself that would be appreciated.

      This is not Leigh Halfpenny 5 years ago when he was close to being the best FB in the world. I’ve always preferred my full backs to provide maximum attacking threat – maybe I was swayed too far by that but I’d still argue that 2018 Leigh Halfpenny would be behind a rake of full backs if I was picking my own team.

      Anscombe’s Super Rugby career and Cardiff Blues career have been split between pretty much evenly between full back and stand off. He’s a late developer at Test level. He’s managed 10 starts for Wales in the 5 seasons he’s been in the Northern Hemisphere. Saturday was only his 4th Test start at 10 for Wales (it was Hastings 3rd). We didn’t get a direct head to head battle in the Champions Cup unfortunately with Anscombe at 15 but Hastings clearly outplayed him there.

      I certainly wouldn’t agree there’s any comparison between Anscombe (20 caps) and Laidlaw (63 caps) and Barclay (71 caps) so I don’t see that as a reasonable equivalence to make. Nor the Brown better than Hogg metaphor being in the same ball park as some of the calls I made.

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