Match preview: Scotland v Wales, 6 Nations 2017

KO 2.25 at Murrayfield Stadium, Saturday 25th February
Live on BBC 1

At kick off it will have been 3,668 days – more than 10 years – since Scotland last tasted victory against Wales. This is the longest streak against any of the other 6 Nations with the dark blues most recent wins looking like this:

Ireland 4th February 2017
France 13th March 2016
Italy 27th February 2016
England 8th March 2008
Wales 10th February 2007

Starting XV stats:

  • Average age – SCO 26.5   WAL 27.0
  • Test caps – SCO 399   WAL 699
  • 6 Nations appearances – SCO 177   WAL 294
  • Pack weights – SCO 884kg   WAL 898kg

SCOTLAND
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Huw Jones
12 Alex Dunbar
11 Tim Visser
10 Finn Russell
9 Ali Price
HEAD-TO-HEAD
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Wales
EVEN
ADV Wales
EVEN
ADV Wales
WALES
15 Leigh Halfpenny
14 George North
13 Jonathon Davies
12 Scott Williams
11 Liam Williams
10 Dan Biggar
9 Rhys Webb

1 Gordon Reid
2 Fraser Brown
3 Zander Fagerson
4 Richie Gray
5 Jonny Gray
6 John Barclay (c)
7 John Hardie
8 Ryan Wilson

ADV Wales
ADV Scotland
EVEN
ADV Scotland
EVEN
EVEN
ADV Wales
EVEN

1 Rob Evans
2 Ken Owens
3 Tomas Francis
4 Jake Ball
5 Alun Wyn Jones
6 Sam Warburton
7 Justin Tipuric
8 Ross Moriarty

16 Ross Ford
17 Allan Dell
18 Simon Berghan
19 Tim Swinson
20 Hamish Watson
21 Henry Pyrgos
22 Duncan Weir
23 Mark Bennett

ADV Scotland
ADV Wales
ADV Wales
ADV Scotland
ADV Wales
EVEN
ADV Wales
ADV Scotland

16 Scott Baldwin
17 Nicky Smith
18 Samson Lee
19 Luke Charteris
20 Taulupe Faletau
21 Gareth Davies
22 Sam Davies
23 Jamie Roberts

Overall
Backs – advantage Wales
With 5 British Lions on show there’s no lack of class in the backlines. 2013 was a while back though and, Stuart Hogg apart, this group’s form is maybe not quite at the same level as 4 years ago. That’s offset by some prospective candidates for this summer’s tour to New Zealand with players like Tommy Seymour, Liam Williams, Alex Dunbar and Dan Biggar bang in form during the crucial period when Warren Gatland has alleged he will make many of his selections.
Forwards – even
Probably the 2 sides in the Championship who are least set up for scrum dominance clash. Hopefully this means resets, milking penalties and general time-wasting are kept to a minimum and we get to see forwards unleashing the backlines. 2 lightish, very quick back rows could see a lot of spoiling around the breakdown though.
Subs – advantage Wales
This should be more even than in recent years but some key injuries (eg Dickinson, Nel, Laidlaw, Strauss) are still testing Scotland’s depth. Wales’ strongest bench options are Charteris and Faletau but they are being eased back in after injury. Sam Davies could be a game changer but Jamie Roberts seems an odd choice for a sub – in 17 minutes in this 6 Nations he’s failed to make an impact, carrying the ball once (for no gain) and missing both the tackles he’s attempted.

Wales Scouting Report:

  • Rumours of  Leigh Halfpenny’s demise as a goal-kicker may have been premature. After missing his first kick against Italy he’s nailed 11 in a row for a 92% return. Scotland cannot afford to give him too many scoring opportunities.
  • The Dragons have been kicking more than the sides Scotland have faced so far. Wales – 1 kick per 5.4 carries; Ireland 1 per 10.3; France 1 per 11.2. The Scottish back 3 may get more opportunities to return the ball when the Welsh hoof it, but they’ll also need to face a barrage of contestable kicks with quality operators like Biggar, Williams (L) and Halfpenny trying to retain possession.
  • They may be playing a slightly more expansive version of Gatlandball these days but Wales only made 1 offload against England, potentially allowing the Scottish defence to be more aggressive in the way they attack the ball carrier.
  • The Welsh lineout has been very good, only losing 1 of their own throws. They’ve heavily relied on getting Warburton and Tipuric up quickly though with the 2 flankers taking 16 of their 21 lineout wins. Scotland need to counter by getting their own back row options (Wilson and Barclay) in the air to compete.
  • Wales make far more use of their centres than Scotland. Davies and Williams (S) have 42 carries from their opening 2 fixtures compared to just 16 for Dunbar and Jones. The home side need to involve these key players far more if they want to pressure the Welsh defence.
  • George North is not the player he was – but he’s still dangerous. A try and 108 metres with ball in hand show what he can do when he’s given space. 2 turnovers and 2 missed tackles (none made) show what can happen when he’s put under pressure.
  • 7 of the Welsh players (plus Alex Cuthbert, the 1 man dropped from their last outing) were born in April, a statistical anomaly that suggests there isn’t much to do in Wales in July…

Previous results
This will be the 9th time the sides have met at Murrayfield in the Six Nations with the head to head looking looking like this:

D W L W   L L L L

Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 23-26 Wales

24 players return from that fixture – 14 for the visitors and 10 for the home side. The biggest transformation for Scotland has been in the back row where none of the players from the 23 (Harley, Cowan, Beattie and Strokosch) return. For Wales it is the front row that has been overhauled with Scott Baldwin the only player involved in both 2015 and 2017 (Jenkins, Hibbard, Jarvis, James and Andrews the big lads missing).

Officials:
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle (England), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

This will be the 6th time that Mr. Lacey has refereed Scotland. There have been dark mutterings across social media this week from Scottish fans as they have realised who is taking charge of the game at Murrayfield. The dark blues haven’t done too badly in terms of discipline when the Irish whistler has been in charge though – they’ve won the crime count 4 times out of 5, conceding 14 fewer penalties than their opponents and have yet to see a player sin binned (2 yellow cards for the opposition in that time). Maybe Saturday won’t be that bad after all…

Nobody was sent to the naughty step last year in Cardiff but prior to that there were 9 cards in the previous 5 encounters between these 2 sides. This fixture certainly hasn’t lacked for drama, excitement and controversy in recent years.

 


Picture courtesy of the excellent Adrian Henry for Rugby People – well worth a click!

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