Only victory will stop the sky falling in for Wales

Defeat for Gatland's team against Scotland today would pile pressure on coach
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The Independent Online

So much for Warren Gatland's bemusement at Andy Robinson's demands to have the Millennium Stadium roof open. The sun shone when the Scots trained there yesterday and is expected to shine again today. Perhaps the man from the West Country simply knows more about Welsh weather than the man from Waikato.

Or then, maybe Gatland had an ulterior motive for having the lid shut and was not really worried about wet conditions all along. For if his side lose this afternoon, the sky will be in danger of falling in.

Wales won their first seven Six Nations games under Gatland. They have lost three of the next four. For a nation which has never needed much excuse to turn a blip into an irrecoverable disaster, four out of five would be ascribed "meltdown" status. Perspective wouldn't come into it. There has been widespread criticism of his selection in the wake of the England reversal and, as daft as it would be, the mutterings would take on a far more sinister tone.

Little wonder, therefore, that Rob Howley used the term "must-win game" three times yesterday. "There's a winning habit and a losing habit," said the skills coach. "We spoke to the players this week and said 'look we've lost the last two games, against Australia and England – we need to get back to winning ways'. And for that matter it is a must-win game."

There are other matters, not least their ambitions to win the Championship. Gatland is adamant that the Dragonhood have not gone backwards since their Grand Slam two years ago and, in fairness, they could easily have won all three of those Six Nations defeats. The last in particular. Alun Wyn Jones's infamous yellow card notwithstanding, Howley signalled why Wales didn't prevail at Twickenham: "The lack of possession in the first half." There were three reasons for this – the line-out, ill-discipline and poor ball retention. Like England, Scotland are capable of capitalising on any repeat of these weaknesses.

Chris Paterson, winning his 100th cap, has clearly forgotten how to miss a penalty, while Dan Parks is similarly accurate when aiming for the corner flag or the clouds. It is the elevation of the Cardiff Blues-bound No 10, at the expense of Phil Godman which makes Gatland so expectant of a limited gameplan. "I don't think they will be anywhere near as expansive as they were last week," he said. "They played a lot of rugby against France, but their selections this time point to a tighter approach."

Robinson, however, refutes those suggestions. "I can't control what Warren Gatland says," said the former England coach. "I think it's going to be a cracking game... We have to continually ask questions of the Welsh defence and we are not going to break them down just by kicking alone. I am very surprised people think that's the only way we are going to do it, particularly those who know me."

Saying that, Robinson did not wish to dwell on Scotland's inability to cross the whitewash: "If we win 15-6 with five penalties we would be delighted." When asked if he agreed with Gatland, and "felt a responsibility to entertain" he replied with a stern: "No." It is easy to understand why he feels a responsibility to do all that he can to win. The last time Scotland beat any other Six Nations opponents apart from Italy on the road was in Cardiff in 2002. Bill McLaren was commentating.

The visitors plainly need this victory, although not as much as the hosts. If Wales can get hold of the ball and then keep hold of it for any amount of time, their backs, and especially James Hook, will create tries. The forecast is very much in their favour.

Wales v Scotland: Cardiff teams


C Paterson (Edinburgh) 15

T Evans (Glasgow) 14

S Lamont (Scarlets) 13

G Morrison (Glasgow) 12

R Lamont (Toulon) 11

D Parks (Glasgow) 10

C Cusiter (Glasgow, c) 9

A Dickinson (Glouc) 1

R Ford (Edinburgh) 2

E Murray (N'thmpton) 3

J Hamilton (Edinburgh) 4

A Kellock (Glasgow) 5

K Brown (Glasgow) 6

J Barclay (Glasgow) 7

J Beattie (Glasgow) 8

Replacements: 16 R Lawson (Glouc), 17 Jacobsen (Edin), 18 Gray (Glasgow), 19 MacDonald, 20 Blair, 21 Godman (all Edin), 22 M Evans (Glasgow).


L Byrne (Ospreys) 15

L Halfpenny (Blues) 14

J Hook (Ospreys) 13

J Roberts (Blues) 12

S Williams (Ospreys) 11

S Jones (Scarlets) 10

G Cooper (Blues) 9

P James (Ospreys) 1

G Williams (Blues) 2

A Jones (Ospreys) 3

J Thomas (Ospreys) 4

A W Jones (Ospreys) 5

M Powell (Blues) 6

M Williams (Blues) 7

R Jones (Ospreys, c) 8

Replacements: 16 H Bennett (Ospreys), 17 G Jenkins, 18 B Davies, 19 S Warburton, 20 R Rees (all Cardiff Blues), 21 A Bishop (Ospreys), 22 T Shanklin (Blues).

Scotland coach Andy Robinson denies suggestions his team are to rely on a kicking game

Referee G Clancy (Ireland)

Kick-off 2pm TV BBC1