Wales v Scotland: Six Nations 2020, Match Preview pt I

KO 2.15 at The Principality Stadium
Saturday 14th March 2020

Live on BBC1

It’s certainly no-one’s favourite stat but when considering the scale of the task facing Scotland the sheer paucity of away wins against the old Five Nations’ sides demonstrates just what the dark blues are up against.

Scotland’s last away win against the other members of the Five Nations:

  • England – 1983 (0 away wins in the professional era)
  • France – 1999 (1 away win in the professional era)
  • Ireland – 2010 (3 away wins in the professional era)
  • Wales – 2002 (2 away wins in the professional era)

Wales may be on their worst Six Nations’ losing streak since 2007 but this is still a massive test of how far Scotland have progressed in recent years. Gregor Townsend’s side should travel with confidence but they need to bring the aggression of the performance against Ireland allied to another step up in the clinical nature shown in the game versus France.

Wales Scouting Report

Centre of Attention

The Welsh midfield saw plenty of action against England last Saturday. Between them Hadleigh Parkes and Nick Tompkins had a combined 64 touches of the ball. By comparison, in the reverse fixture in last season’s tournament, Parkes and Jonathan Davies were on the ball just 25 times.

Tompkins in particular has managed to get himself an incredibly high involvement rate in attack. After a bit of a sticky start away to Ireland he had 36 touches v France (4 kicks, 12 passes, 21 carries) and another 36 v England (1 kick, 20 passes, 15 carries). The Saracens’ centre pops up everywhere, frequently getting involved in moves 2 or 3 times. With 6 clean breaks and 16 defenders beaten in his last two outings there’s no question he’s a key danger man in the Welsh offence.

Defensively, Scotland did a relatively good job of containing Virimi Vakatawa in the 13 channel during round 4 of the tournament. This will be a different challenge though with the quick feet of Tompkins able to propel him through the smallest of gaps.

There’s also a feeling that, while they won’t have anyone putting up similar stellar numbers, Scotland will want more attacking production to put pressure on Tompkins on the other side of the ball. As things stand the Wales’ 13 had more touches in 80 minutes against England than Scotland’s starting outside centres have managed in 258 minutes across four Six Nations’ games (36 v 26).

Late Finishes

6 of Wales 12 tries in this season’s Six Nations have been scored in the last 6 minutes of their games. There are a few factors at play, including the possibility that their opponents in the last 3 rounds have failed to maintain their intensity after building up decent leads.

More than that though the Welsh retain some very Gatland-era qualities, including fitness levels that carry them right to the end of the game and a sort of sheer bloody-mindedness not to give up on even a seemingly lost cause.

No matter what position Scotland find themselves in on Saturday they cannot afford to take Wales lightly. If they are fortunate enough to get in front (and bear in mind in the last 10 years the Scots have lead for just 22 minutes out of 400 down in Cardiff) then they need to keep pushing home their advantage and not allow their hosts to find a way back into the game.

Miscellaneous

  • Wales have made 45 bad passes – the most in the tournament (Scotland – 24). They’re still adapting to the more attacking style brought in by coach Wayne Pivac.
  • It’s a style that leads to opportunities though with 22 line breaks – again the most in the Six Nations (Scotland – 17).
  • One area where the dark blues may have an advantage is winning the ball back. Wales have just 10 turnovers won so far whereas Scotland, lead by Watson and Ritchie, have a championship high 22.

Previous results

This will be the 11th time the two sides have met in Cardiff for a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

L W L L L L L L L L

Most recent Six Nations meeting at the Principality Stadium:

Wales 34 – 7 Scotland

Significant stat
18 – the number of clean breaks made by Wales (the only time Scotland have given up more in the Toony era was in the madness at Twickenham in 2019). In Gregor Townsend’s first Six Nations’ match in charge, Scotland struggled to adapt and were opened up by a Welsh side more famed for their defensive prowess. This time round the Scots head down with an improving defensive record. That will be stretched by Wales’ own changes in attack though…

The Scottish Rugby Blog match report from that game is here.

Officials

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referee 1:  Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referee 2: Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

It’s a pretty rare day for Scotland to match with a ref for the first time – particularly in a Six Nations game. In recent years, Luke Pearce is the only man in the middle to make his Scotland debut during the Northern Hemisphere’s premier tournament.

The most surprising thing is that it’s taken this long with Mr Gardner being a regular on the international scene for a number of years now. Scotland can’t even call on a huge amount of recent experience with Australian officials. Two matches with Nic Berry as referee (Samoa in 2017 and France in 2019 – both ‘friendlies’) are the only times they’ve had an Ozzie whistler in the last 5 years.

The Teams

For the final game of the tournament, Townsend has again named an unchanged backline, with the changes all in the pack but Skinner aside they are all moves we have seen before. Sam Skinner swaps directly for Scott Cummings, and Stuart McInally once again swaps with Fraser Brown perhaps in light of the short turnaround as there has been little to separate the two so far.

In the back row, another change we’ve seen before: Magnus Bradbury starts and Matt Fagerson comes on to the bench. Nick Haining drops out of the 23 altogether through illness.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Nick Tompkins, Hadleigh Parkes, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, WillGriff John, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi.
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Rhys Carre, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Taulupe Faletau, Gareth Davies, Jarrod Evans, Johnny McNicholl.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt), Blair Kinghorn, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Sean Maitland, Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury.
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, Willem Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Duncan Weir, Kyle Steyn.

Tags:

When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

41 comments on “Wales v Scotland: Six Nations 2020, Match Preview pt I

  1. Andrew McGavin on

    Like many others, around the time of the last Lions tour I thought Alun Wyn Jones was being over-hyped by Gatland and was on the wane. Have to say he has totally won me round. He is a rock of a player and leader. We don’t have anyone of his stature or experience (yet – not saying we don’t have anyone with that potential).

    The way he responded to a head blow that would have seen most men heading off the park and Marler’s whatever-that-was was genuinely remarkable. When he does retire Wales will feel his loss hugely.

  2. Daihard on

    Cymru are confident about the visit of Yr Alban and will pick a less defensive side and go for an attacking back line. Likely to bring in Faletau as a bit of maturity. Cymru need a cool head. Ritchie and Watson are class players , up against Tipuric mind.

    Halfpenny may be sacrificed putting Williams against Hogg which will be tasty. It would be crazy to kick to you with Hogg back on fire, even Ffrainc did not kick a lot. Parkes may be changed for Owen Watkin , if not ,you know what you have got, a tackle, vice. The money is on Webb against Price , no pressure Ali boy! Rees-Zammit in for a 1st cap and not before time and I am not giving you any more than that.

    Being open, we have tight head problems , we know it and your loose head is on the up. I am hoping this is his bad game, everyone has one, your man has been brilliant this tournament mind. I hope it is a good game lads, Cymru love Yr Alban , we just love winning more . Cymru need a win , I hope I am not being offensive , love your blog. Dai.

    Cymru am byth

    • Merlot on

      Pretty good summation Dai. Figure if we can weaponise our scrum, fix our lineout, and slow the Wales ball down at the breakdown we’ve got a chance and see it being 17-10 to Scotland.
      If we don’t get the upper hand in the set pieces, and Wales get fast ball, I can see Wales running away with it and it’ll be 30-10 to Wales.

  3. Fraser on

    Who knows is the answer to who will win this one.
    Can see anything from a comfortable Scotland win to Wales hammering us happening.
    This game is very much going to make the story of how Scotland performed in this years 6N.

    If I have to, I think I would go for a less than 10 points Wales victory in a fairly low scoring game. Our lack of cutting edge in attack against a strong Welsh defence in Cardiff will probably be telling.

  4. Big Al on

    Looking forward to the teams with interest. Suspect there will be a few changes for Wales and possibly none for Scotland.

  5. Matto on

    Good preview, underlining the scale of the task. A sobering antidote to the hyperbole that often precedes this fixture from our side if we’ve had a run (like a solitary win…) of form and are ‘on the up’ having ‘turned a corner’ etc etc. Wales are the experts at bringing us back down to earth with a brutal thud. They will not be happy about their run of results, but they’ve not been particularly poor and will be well up for this.
    There is absolutely no grounds to expect a win here, but I will be delighted if we do. A rerun of 2010, without the life-threatening injuries, and with a reversal of scores would do nicely! Shame Darcy’s not fit, as he could play the Shane Williams role nicely.

  6. Gaffer on

    We have matched (and even bettered) every other team in the 6 nations in the scrum and at the breakdown this season however, I can see this coming to an end against Wales. Their partisan crowd, whingeing fly half and over bearing captain often sway the ref in these fixtures especially at the millennium. look for scrum penalties going against us with our props walking away scratching their heads and Tipuric getting the nod at breakdown with possibly even Ritchie or Haining being shown a yellow.
    A bit pessimistic I know given the standard of our squad and the pragmatic style were now playing but I’ve watched too much nonsense when against the men in red. Scott Murray red card when the welsh player was clearly holding, Finn Russell red card for not allowing Dan Biggars karate kick to connect with his head, Thom Evans near death following a shocking tackle attempt, The welsh scrum stepping back at the “hit” etc…..
    Wales by 10

  7. john martin on

    The Welsh are in transition & haven’t looked as confident as they were under Gatland, they really miss Anscombe & J.Davies, however whilst I agree with Matto there is a wee chance that we get stuck into them in the 1st 25mins & set the tone somewhat…….. or is this simply….. ITS THE HOPE THAT KILLS YOU

    • FF on

      Unavailable due to illness according to SRU release. Shame as he has performed well and Bradbury can go missing sometimes.

    • Neil on

      Here is hoping Skinner can add a lot to our lineout game.

      Probably an improvement in scrum power over Cummings and his equal in what he offers around the park, perhaps slightly better at breakdown also ?

  8. jimmythefish on

    Surprised to see Harris picked again at outside centre. He did a great job nullifying Vakatawa against France but I had hoped for a more attacking player like Hutchison or Jones for the Wales game. No real replacement on the bench either so it looks like Toony playing a containment game – no disprespect to Harris who had a good game against France, just that I think others can exploit gaps better.

    Surprised also to see the second row combination, given the problems with our line out this year. I had expected to see Toolis come back but the blame has maybe been laid at the throw ins, so lets hope McInally and Brown can sort our their arrows. Good to have the athletic Skinner back starting though and lets hope he, Gilchrist and Bradbury can punch some holes in the Welsh defence.

    Otherwise its great to see props, flankers, half backs and back three picking themselves. Consistency in selection should breed confidence to get the job done in Wales.

  9. Scrummo on

    I like this side.

    Props are both very strong.

    Can only assume Brown and McInally are having their gametime managed carefully and both are evenly matched but equally worrying when throwing so that makes sense.

    Skinner will hope to be more prominent than Cummings last week and Gilchrist will be looking to back up a big game against France. Bradbury in for Haining makes sense if the latter is ill. Overall the back 5 and the pack in general look muscular, aggressive and mobile.

    Backs pick themselves. Harris has gone well in the last two games and will again be tasked with nullifying the threat from 13 whilst straightening our attack with ball in hand. I wouldn’t want to see Tompkins running at either of Jones or Hutchinson multiple times over 80 minutes if I’m honest.

    • john martin on

      Tomkins has been good but has looked fallible. The statement you posed should be turned around & be – “i would like to see Hutchinson & Jones run at him multiple times over 80mins” Tompkins is a good player (looked very good v Italy but not so since) but he’s no Jon Davies

      • Rory Baldwin on

        Tompkins has been pretty impressive for his first set of international starts at 13. While not perfect he’s stepped up to the pace a lot quicker than Harris took to get there. Could be some tussle!

      • FF on

        Harris is a bit of a Jamie Noon. No one pretends he’s the best or most exciting 13 in the country but he’s picked to do a job and he does it well.

        The question is I suppose, ‘is he a keeper?’ Or will we try to add a bit more elan to our new found defensive solidity? I find it hard to accept that we can leave Hutchison, Jones and (to a much less extent) Bennett out of the side but have Harris in it – on the other hand if we win in Wales it’ll be a watershed result. It’s clear what Toonie wants at 13 – someone who can make his tackles. It’s the reason he let Bennet leave Glasgow too allegedly.

      • Neil on

        Didn’t Harris miss a third of his tackles against France ? anyone got the stats against France & Italy to confirm this

        Also comparing it against Jones stats for Ireland-England would be interesting.

        I think the coaches are looking for more out of Harris than just defending because he is not as amazing as people think (im guessing)

      • Scrummo on

        I think what some people don’t realise is that a good backline isn’t just all your best attacking players at the same time. Sometimes you need some glue in there and Harris does that job very effectively and is a very underrated player in any case.

    • Scotty on

      re Brown and McInally…I get the impression that Townsend just doesn’t know which one is better! On a negative side, I fear the fact that neither has locked down the #2 jersey could hurt both their Lions chances even though they both probably deserve to go.

      • Sam Westerwood on

        Last year we wanted to play Brown at flanker. We are fickle. Neither of our lads are Lions hookers ,not on this outing. I suspect both England hookers are better placed and ken owens is safe hands though this weekend will settle that one way or the other. I like them both, I prefer Rambo as he has a direct running style.But I cannot see either as under consideration as lions.

      • Scrummo on

        I think you’re probably right. Love Brown’s aggression and McInally is a good player as well but the Lions are never going to pick hookers that seemingly can’t throw consistently whether that’s entirely their fault or not.

      • Andrew McGavin on

        Rory Best still went on the last Lions tour when he was having trouble with his throwing, but of course he had greater leadership experience and was used to winning home and away (which Gatland particularly prizes).

        But if Brown or McInally are in great form next Six Nations then they’ve both got a strong case.

  10. TeamCam on

    Can’t really argue with the selection, even if I’d rather see a couple of others in. I’m glad Toonie is putting a high value on consistency.

  11. Stu2 on

    Actually this is a match that makes sense for Harris to start – Tomkins has looked very lively, let’s hope Harris doesn’t miss as many tackles as Sunday.

    More of the same – hopefully with a win at the end of it.

    • Andrew McGavin on

      I’m picturing him as one third eagle, one third lion and one third plinth – impressively built but almost immobile. But I could be wrong.

    • TeamCam on

      He played against Warriors twice this season. I don’t recall him doing much damage, but I could be wrong.

      • TeamCam on

        Apparently he benches 210kg. Think I read somewhere that Sutherland’s was around 220kgs, which is interesting given that John has a good 30kgs on Sutherland mass-wise. Obviously levers etc. will have a big effect, mind.

      • Andrew McGavin on

        Is he really 140kg (310 lbs)? That’s enormous. Over 22 stone. He’s 6′ 3″ so that could partly explain it but still…

      • Scrummo on

        Sutherland is usually listed at 113kg but I’ve started seeing 118kg crop up which I can well believe given he is an absolute unit. Even if he’s giving up 3 inches and 3 and a half stone I think he’s the perfect size for a prop and ridiculously strong so I think John is in for a stern test on his debut.

        There was one scrum in the France match early on where France seemed to have the shove but Sutherland was able to adjust with pure strength and send them back the other way. He’s a great technical scrummager which he backs up with unreal strength.

      • FF on

        WillGriff John has come out with some fighting talk in Wales online!

        Seems to be thought of as added scrum and ball-carrying ability but fitness maybe in doubt.

    • Scrummo on

      Sale Sharks have him listed at 126kg, the same as Zander which is also what Wales Online quote him as being so I think that figure may be exaggerated.

      He’s a tank though.

      • Rory Baldwin on

        If the boys can bring their newfound intensity he’s going to need to adapt to the pace of test rugby quickly. Another interesting tussle ahead with Sutherland!

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