Gregor Townsend will be without top performers Jamie Ritchie, Sean Maitland and Cameron Redpath for the visit of Wales this weekend. The injured men have been replaced by Blade Thomson, Darcy Graham and James Lang respectively.
Townsend said of the injured trio: “We don’t think they’ll be out too long, Jamie and Sean we believe they’ll be back for the French game.
“Jamie had a tightening in his hamstring so it’s a 1-2 week injury. Sean had a knee problem which affected his achilles, so he had to leave the field. At a push he could’ve made this weekend but given the physical nature of the game, the training that we need, and also the fact he’s hardly played any rugby these last few weeks, we felt it not right to put in the team this weekend.
“Cam Redpath presented with a neck issue the day after the game. It hasn’t improved and we’ve been liaising with his club after a scan. He’ll probably miss the next few weeks but we never know how quickly these neck issues resolve. We’re optimistic he’ll be back involved later in the championship.”
Otherwise the team and bench that defeated England remain unchanged, which gives unusual continuity in most areas, rather than promoting from the bench and plugging the gaps there. Is this the end of the Tombola era?
Scotland seem considerably better off than injury-stricken Wales who see a number of changes following a punishing opening fixture against Ireland. It does see the return of Liam Williams to the back three who should be expected to pose a stronger aerial challenge than England did, but Townsend is still wary of the threat Wales could pose.
“We’ll wait and see what Wales bring and we’ll react to that but the important thing for us is to build on that performance we delivered last weekend.
“Wales are an improved team since the autumn. They did really well last week, they’ve got some experienced players back in the mix for them and they’ve got the confidence of an opening weekend win. I’m sure they’ll be determined to reverse the result from a few months ago.
“We expect them to perform and their game now looks to have added physicality from what we saw in autumn.”
Although Scotland are at home, Townsend considered that an eerily quiet BT Murrayfield would not bring the usual home comforts. Had Ireland kept 15-men on the park last week and won, it would have made for an unprecedented hat-trick of away wins during round one of the tournament.
“That’s a threat for us this weekend. We’ve really fed off the energy of our crowd the last 2-3 years.
“We’ve been away from home four times since no crowds were involved in the Six Nations – Rome, Llanelli, Twickenham and Dublin – and you do feel it’s more of a neutral venue than ever before.
“We’ve got to make sure that we don’t let Wales make the most of that opportunity. We’ve got to create our own energy, impose our game without 60,000 supporters cheering us on, so that’s an extra challenge for us being at home this weekend.”
Will Scotland stick with the tactics that have worked so far or will they need to adjust?
“We’re hoping for better weather this week. That was a huge positive from the performance last week, was that we were able to be accurate and play with width at times even though the conditions were poor. It’s going to be very cold but we’re hoping at a dry ball this week so that we can add even more to our game.”
Victory over Wales would mean the first time since 1996 – ye olde 5 Nations, of which we are the reigning champs – that Scotland have won their opening two matches of the tournament. After the glorious shock of last week, dare we dream to think of another long-standing gorilla on our back being removed?
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, James Lang, Duhan Van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Blade Thomson, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Dave Cherry, Oli Kebble, Willem Nel, Richie Gray, Gary Graham, Scott Steele, Jaco Van der Walt, Huw Jones.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, James Botham, Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Willis Halaholo.
Part II of Kevin’s Scotland v Wales in-depth preview will appear soon. You can read Part I here.