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Wales v Scotland: The Preview

Rory Darge and Finn Russell - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Rory Darge and Finn Russell watch at training - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Wales

Wales

2024 Guinness Six NationsSat 3rd FebPrincipality Stadium, CardiffKick-off: 4:45 pm (UK)26-27

Scotland

Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (NZR) | TV: BBC Sport / S4C

First, the bad news – we’re without the irreplaceable Kevin’s previews for the tournament, so you are stuck with something perhaps far less nutritious – and definitely not as well researched – but hopefully just as tasty. The Lidl’s Wheat Biscuits of Scotland previews, if you will.

A new year, springtime is almost here and it’s time for the Six Nations. Go and watch the Netflix Doc, get hyped, then come back (note – this will only work for Scotland fans as no other teams are featured).

Scotland have recently picked up wins in France and England, putting paid to long-standing Six Nations hoodoos. Last year they won their opening two games for the first time since the expansion to six teams, eventually finishing third after a run holding down fourth spot consistently since 2020.

Under what the Americans would refer as our “winningest” coach in Gregor Townsend, it seems like an upward trend – provided you ignore World Cups and results against Ireland.

From here, Scotland must target second place – at least – in the tournament, for any sense of improvement to take root. It would also be nice to be in genuine (rather than “hold on we need Kev back” mathematical) contention for the tournament going into the final round.

Merely seeming to be a bit better each year, and gradually getting past longstanding mental hurdles, may no longer be enough for a Gregor Townsend regime without a Dodson-shaped umbrella to shelter under. Toony was right in every team talk he gave in the Netflix Six Nations: Full Contact documentary – if the team execute, they can beat anyone.

But can he encourage consistent levels of execution and a wee bit of luck over the five rounds of a Six Nations? And is it his fault if the players don’t?

That’s what it will take to dislodge one of France or Ireland. With the tournament getting ever closer, England and Wales might be resurgent, after better World Cups than expected. And as always Italy are lurking, with a new coaching setup ready to start turning their ship around too.

All of which means a few silly errors here, a dodgy decision (referee or player) there, and Scotland are battling it out in the basement again. Of course, there are (at least) three ways it could go on the first weekend…

Wales v Scotland: Head

The 2024 Six Nations kicks off with a trip to Wales in Cardiff. There have been wins over Wales (2020, 2023), wins over Wales in Wales (2020), and even wins over Warren Gatland (2023). But Scotland are still yet to beat Wales under Gatland in the Principality Stadium; overall the recent trend is bleak.

Head says Scotland should win this, but it won’t be comfortable.

While the heart (see below) will always pick a Scotland win, it is unusual for the head to be nearly in alignment. Before the tournament begins maybe less so – there’s always that wee bit of hope.

Scotland should have the players, and the experience, to win this. Finn Russell is in great form for Bath (that late kick against Bristol at the weekend notwithstanding), Blair Kinghorn is ripping it up alongside Antoine Dupont at Toulouse and our level of competition by form – not just reputation – in the back row is insane.

The head being the sensible version, it would at least caution that our strength at tighthead prop in particular is a worry.

With most of the squad now having experience of the cauldron of noise at the Principality, Scotland should not be overawed and should look to get a win to start off the tournament well.

Wales v Scotland: Heart

This is the year, everyone! And it starts with a hammering of Gatland’s kids down in their own backyard. England and Wales over-performed in the World Cup so sure, they have bragging rights over us also-rans who went out in the group stages, but as the new year rolls in they are without a Titanic lifeboat’s worth of big names and experience.

Signed on for four years, Gatland is building for the next World Cup and blooding a lot of young players. Wales called up one more uncapped player than Scotland’s four, but also a further eight yet to play in the Six Nations. They have very few players with 50+ caps and most are in the backs. In four years they will more than likely be a threat, but now is the time to get them while they are still teething.

Gone: Alun-Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, Dan Lydiate, Jon Davies, Luis Rees-Zammit (lol), Gareth Anscombe, Leigh Halfpenny.

We’ve got bags of players in form, not too many injuries, and a pretty settled side. So what if we got rid of Brad Mooar the attack consultant and have only one quality tighthead? That just makes us more unpredictable!

Bonus point win please.

Can’t wait to see this lifted out of context by WalesOnline…

Wales v Scotland: Arse

This game is, after all, in Cardiff. Graveyard of so many Scottish dreams. The last time the teams met in Cardiff, Wales dragged Scotland into a second-half arm wrestle masterminded by Dan Biggar and ran out late winners. History suggests that “Scotland in Cardiff” is more likely to go this way than any of the either two. But we don’t believe in history, do we?

Oh, we do?

Well in that case it will be more of the same from 2021 when Scotland were unable to impose their attacking game and lost the dogfight. Wales have nothing to lose, essentially starting the 2027 World Cup squad from scratch this weekend, why wouldn’t they set out a statement of intent?

At scrum-time they will feel they can get an edge with Javan “not picked for Wales” Sebastian now our backup tighthead after WP Nel picked up a shoulder injury in training, and Will Hurd already out. Does Toony thrust uncapped Elliot Millar-Mills in?

If Wales cannot figure out how to “arse” us this way, the next teams up will be damn sure to target that particular set piece, making it a long old tournament. It’s not so much a weakness as a sign stuck on our back saying “kick me” – and they told us it was there but we still can’t take it off.

If your mates from other countries are going on about how “the Scots are always talking themselves up”, just scream very loudly about our tighthead crisis well in advance, so you have the receipts.

Having done reasonably well with Ben O’Keeffe as referee in recent years, chances are he suddenly takes a dislike to us and bins whoever has been picked to replace the already banned Grant Gilchrist for an act there will be 2-3 unpunished versions of elsewhere on opening weekend.

We’ve never mastered Wales under Gatland (see also: Ireland with Sexton) and you can’t bet your mortgage that we’ll be able to now, even if we “should”. We’ve heard “should” quite a lot over the years. In this scenario, once again we will be facing the criticism of our experienced heads failing to deliver on the big stage.

Phew – conjuring up the apocalyptic version is so much easier after decades watching Scotland.

Now that you are all cheered up, how do you see the game going? Is there a fourth way?

The Teams

Wales: Cameron Winnett, Rio Dyer, Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams; Sam Costelow, Gareth Davies; Corey Domachowski, Ryan Elias, Leon Brown, Dafydd Jenkins (capt), Adam Beard, James Botham, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Kemsley Mathias, Keiron Assiratti, Teddy Williams, Alex Mann, Tomos Williams, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady.

Scotland: Kyle Rowe, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan Van Der Merwe, Finn Russell (capt), Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Scott Cummings, Luke Crosbie, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Alec Hepburn, Elliot Millar-Mills, Sam Skinner, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Ben Healy, Cam Redpath.

43 Responses

  1. Good write up Rory.

    Team prediction. I don’t think it’s worth risking Darge.

    Schoeman, Mathews, Fagerson, Gray, Cummings, Fagerson, Dempsey, Christie, White, Russell, DVDM, Tuipulotu, Jones, Steyn, Kinghorn.
    Turner,Hepburn, Sebastian, Skinner, Ritchie, Horne, Healy, Redpath.

  2. It’s the hope that kills you, everything points to a Scotland victory, we leathered a (on paper) better Wales team last year, Finn Russell, the plethora of experienced Welsh boys no there, the incredible LRZ saga.
    However we are Scotland……. Nel /Hastings/Graham being injured doesn’t help.
    We need to ensure that our 10 12 are not flooded/nullified and the basics are done competently- IMO that needs Crosbie and Young and Matthews to start with Darge Cummings and Ashman/Turner on the bench.
    Gatland will play 10 man rugby/loads kicking he can’t risk playing rugby.

    1. basically agree, they’ll try to make an arm wrestle like 2022. they’ll attack the breakdown, spend time in the tackle, get in passing lanes and try to shut down Russell. If we’re a bit pragmatic, don’t play in our own half too much, get our maul going, clear our rucks properly we win this game. Angry Ritchie and Turner off the bench can have a big impact.

    2. hmm interesting team… Real shame for Kinghorn but it seems they’ve favoured Scottish based players over exiles. I’d have thought Hutchinson and Jones would have been primary FB cover. will be intersting to hear what GT says about it.

  3. Scotland should by any measure smash this, but…..(sadly, painfully) we do love to be the plucky underdogs. Can we find the mental depth to be championship contenders? Impose our game? Execute consistently? I hope so. (Christ if we screw up the lineup again I might just switch to watching NFL) .
    Team: as others suggest, but I’d play Redpulotu, and maybe start with Turner (he brings some shock and awe).
    (On another note, watching the Netflix series I’m struck by how composed Ireland look in training and pre match chat, the self belief is there, as with France. They don’t just talk it, they believe in their skills, and ability to win. Not sure we do, yet)

  4. Kinghorn – Steyn – Jones – Tuipolotu – Van Der Merwe – Russell – Horne – Dempsey – Crosbie – Fagerson – Skinner – Gray – Fagerson – Turner – Schoeman

    Rowe – Redpath – White – Christie – Cummings – Sebastian – Bhatti – Ashman

    Went for consistency and experience where possible with it being a poor Wales side, the only way we lose this is by letting the occasion get to our heads, so not in a rush to do many new combos/debuts.

    Skinner to partner Gray over cummings/young as he is a bit wider for driving mauls and more weight at scrum. Cummings offers line-breaks once the Welsh get tired.

    I predict a hammering is coming for Wales and they won’t forget about it soon. Gatland will have a face full of rage and despair. Half the Welsh supporters will leave by 60 minutes after Russell pulls off a moment of magic.

    look forward to the pack manhandling the little Welsh boys from the Valleys, as will be the case for the next 10 years.

    Where is Daihard? Usually pops up around about this time.

    Wales 3 Scotland 47

    Wales will win something this Six Nations – The Wooden Spoon.

  5. Oh god, I’m just reading the bunker is back. It was an absolute farce at the World Cup.

    1. Unpopular opinion – I like the bunker, glad it’s back.

      Communication around it need to be improved, but I don’t remotely miss the interminable slow-mos on the big screen, the howls of outrage from the home fans regardless of what’s going on, and all the while, the megafauna that some teams select in the forwards are resting and recovering, making for a slower, more power-focussed game.

      I get that there were mistakes, but there were mistakes before it. If the comms is better, I think it’s a good thing.

  6. Need Healy somewhere in the 23, Kinghorn not to be trusted at 10. Centres are a conundrum have got 4 very good ones. Matthews to start as the most dependable thrower.
    Kinghorn Steyn Tuipulotu Redpath VDM, Russell, White
    Dempsey, Crosbie, M.Fagerson, Gray, Young, Z.Fagerson, Matthews, Schoeman.
    Reps – Jones, Healy, Horne, Ritchie, Cummings, Sebastian, Turner, Bhatti.

  7. Ref is Ben O ‘ Keeffe. I think we know him well. Nothing too extreme and I suspect he will not sway to Welsh whinging. I have a confidence Finn will develop a good relationship with the referees. His laidback style could be a benefit.

    1. O’Keefe Ref’ed the Scotland-England 2022 game particularly well, witness the Cowie-Dickie yellow/penalty try and not giving an unnecessary scrum penalty in the dying minutes, although this did get my heart rate into the 140s.
      Picking by form and experience, which we’ll need in Cardiff, here is my team:
      Schoemann, Turner, Fagerson; Gray, Cummings; Christie, Ritchie, Dempsey; White, Russell; Redpath, Tuipolotu; VDM, Steyn, BK
      bench: Bhatti, Ashman, Sebastian (if match fit); Young; Fagerson; Horne, Healy, Jones
      Man for man that is miles better than anything Wales can put on the park. We’re winning this game by >10.

  8. Oh god. If ever there was a banana skin for a Scottish team it’s this opening weekend in Cardiff. We’ve all seen this movie before, Scotland are favourites, settled team, players on form, Wales seemingly in disarray. And yet… We’ve all seen the occasion get to the players in Cardiff. There just seems to be something about Wales that gets to us. An error or two gets made and suddenly players start to try to force things. More mistakes happen. Wales get momentum. The crowd find their voice. Next thing you know cards are coming out, we’re down players, chasing the game, it all gets frantic, Toony makes some poor substitutions and it’s game over.

    I really hope this time it really is different!

    1. I think the team has to be shuffled and freshened a bit. I’m Huw Jones biggest fan but you just have to think it might be time for Russell, Redpath. Back row is a lottery too, but Dempsey to start if fit. Have to think there will be some super options off the bench. Though tight head is the worry.

  9. The biggest obstacle Yr Alban must overcome on Saturday is their own self confidence. Never underestimate the passion of Cymru. Good Luck but I can see only one side having a happy ending.

    Cymru am byth.

  10. not sure what to expect from Scotland this year – could go either way. Always a bit nervous v the Welsh as they often have our number with their style of play, which is often waiting patiently for our errors!

  11. I think you guys are looking good for this one, Gatland is out of his mind with some of his selections. Ospreys best team in Wales and only 2 Osprey Players in the match day 23.
    Your squad looks very good on paper and Tandy is doing a fantastic job with you guys but like us in 2019 and 2021 you need to believe you can beat not just us jut Ireland and France as well.
    You have had the better of England a few times now but we used to have the as long as we beat the English mentality but you need to do one or two step more this year.

  12. Teams out
    I think Gregor missed an opportunity to get Hugh Jones at FB and Cam Redpath at centre.
    And no Christie…..thoughts?
    All in all fairly happy though
    Now bring it on

  13. Oh dear, that is a disappointing back row. Dempsey was the only one to emerge from the World Cup with his reputation intact and Christie just keeps getting ignored despite his great form, I don’t know why he keeps turning up for squad sessions when Townsend just picks his favourites anyway. The second row also need to up their game after a poor World Cup.

  14. Team selected is interesting. Pity Kinghorn has picked up a knee niggle. Has Kyle Rowe even played full back for Glasgow? I’d expect him to get a few balls kicked in his direction to see what he’s made of and how well he can kick return.

    I wouldnt have picked that back row but we’ve lots of competition there.

    The main risk as I see it is our two uncapped props on the bench. Lets hope they do well.

    1. Lets hope the game is out of sight by the time the props come onto the pitch Big Al. Did we not experiment with Hutchinson at Full Back some time ago.

      Keep the roof open this time.

  15. Only two exiles in the starting 15. Has the extra weeks training and rest effected the decisions. Crosbie and Ritchie over Bayliss or Christie?
    Rowe over Hutchinson or Redpath?

  16. Toony strikes again.

    Kyle Rowe is a fine winger but he’s untested as a full back whereas Huw Jones has played 15 for Glasgow, so naturally Toony picks Rowe at 15 when the sensible option would have been to pick Jones at FB, Redpath at 12, and Tuipulotu at 13. Moreover, Redpath at 12 would have taken some of the load off Russell, who now has three roles to fulfill: playmaker, goal kicker and captain.

    And then there’s hooker. Matthews is the form guy s0 – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – he doesn’t make the 23. Jings, crivvens, help ma boab etc.

    And there’s more. Christie and Hutchinson must wonder what they have to do to make the 23 let alone the starting 15. Christie has been in good form but, like his fellow back row Magnus Bradbury, that doesn’t seem to be enough in Toony’s eyes. Hutchinson is also in fine fettle and, given his ability to cover a number of positions, should really have made the bench.

    Ho hum, ’twas ever thus with Toony.

    Anyway, good luck to the 23 on Saturday.

  17. Team not selected

    Blair Kinghorn – Darcy Graham – Rory Hutchinson – Stafford McDowall – Aaron Reed – Adam Hastings – Jamie Dobie – Magnus Bradbury – Rory Darge – Andy Christie – Grant Gilchrist – Jonny Gray – WP Nel – Johnny Matthews – Jamie Bhatti

    Oli Smith – Chris Harris – Ben Vellacott – Hamish Watson – Cameron Henderson – Javan Sebastian – Rory Sutherland – Dave Cherry

    Even our B team would beat this Wales side in Cardiff. They really don’t have a chance this time around. Have we ever had so much depth?

  18. They can kick to Rowe once at their peril and all the rest of the team know how hard they have to work to beat Wales the way they did last year. Why bring in guys who don’t at this stage. We need a VC performance from this squad to go out there and shake up the world !

  19. I’m sure the key thing that the Welsh players will be coached at is putting their heads in red card positions and playing the ref.

  20. So Toony has done a U turn and asked for the roof to be closed which means we’ve chosen to play with a greasy ball in more humid conditions and in a noisier stadium than play outdoors in the rain. I hope there’s method behind the madness because we’re not great under a high ball.

  21. I’m still showing the psychological bruises from the 2022 slugfest we allowed ourselves to get dragged into and lost.
    Scotland are 8/15 to win tomorrow which reflects how punters are viewing the outcome. I think that’s too short a price as for the past two decades Cardiff has been a really tough venue for us.
    As it’s our first-up Test, and recalling the major disappointments of 2018 and 2022, my ticket for tomorrow’s match is up against the living room wall, behind our couch.

  22. I watched the 2022 Six Nations in a pub in the shadows of The Principality and at some time approximately into the twenty somethings of the first half as Scotland had taken a decent lead… in control and battering down the Welsh defensive door I said to a Welsh lady quietly. I think we’re going to finally win this time.

    Enter Gameplan suffocation and its remembered as one of the worse Scotland displays since the last one in Cardiff.

    Not so…yes we forgot to kick the points we slowly lost control and were outsmarted by a foe who could grind us down. But we Should have won and we could have.

    I worry about Russell not taking the points on offer often enough…he needs to mix that up not always go for the corner.

    He’ll be a great captain for the ref and the team.

    And if you look there are enough old heads in the Welsh side to worry us.

    I’m calm and ready for the victory but are the rugby players?

  23. Can’t wait for this one – keen to see: how Kyle Rowe goes; backrow thunder from rhe bench; Redpath cameo; and Captain Finntastic!

    Not keen to see: lineouts; scrummaging late in the game; shots of Welsh crowd grinning at the camera and cheering.

    Come on!!

  24. Well, this is it. Ireland are a cut above – feels like they can only be beaten by the actual abstract concept of a quarter final – but the first four games, everyone
    looks vulnerable. We’re decent, settled and ready to right some world cup wrongs. It’s a chance.

    However, the squad is alarmingly threadbare. Eliot Millar Mills deserves his chance, he’s the best we’ve got available, it’s a personal triumph and I hope he goes full Marfo. But him in the 23 for a 6N game isn’t just a worry, it’s an indictment of the SRU’s ability to produce rugby players.

    Key players stay fit, a few come back, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll have something to play for at the last weekend. Go well lads.

  25. Lovely stuff.

    Have to push this out of sight and for the bonus!

    First ten mins of next half are the game…

  26. What a pathetic first 30 minutes of that second half. WTF was going on in their heads? Totally in control first half and heading for a record win against Wales. Coaches and players really have to sort this out before the France game next week. Ridiculous number of penalties conceded, some of them totally brainless.
    Still, on the bright side, we’ve done Gatland’s Wales and broken a 22 year hoodoo in Cardiff.

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