Both Scotland and Wales enter Saturday’s game with hopes of lifting this year’s RBS Six Nations championship still intact following two victories in their opening three games, but only the winner of this clash will have any chance of challenging England for the title next weekend.
Following a hard-fought 12-8 victory over Ireland last week, the Scots will run-out at Murrayfield on the back of consecutive victories in the Six Nations for the first time since 2001. Should they be triumphant on Saturday afternoon, the Scottish would enter the last round of fixtures still competing for the top spot – more than even the most loyal of Scottish fans would have expected.
Interim head coach Scott Johnson has chosen to make two changes to his starting line-up, recalling prop Euan Murray after he missed the win over Ireland due to his Christian faith, with Geoff Cross dropping to the bench. The big change comes at fly-half though, with Duncan Weir replacing Ruaridh Jackson after impressing as a substitute last time out. It will be Weir’s first start for his country, and his temperament will be tested in a must-win game for both sides.
Wales, who have their own interim head coach in Rob Howley, will see skipper Sam Warburton return to openside flanker, although he will not be leading his team out as instead Ryan Jones retains the captaincy. It is another blow to Warburton’s hopes of captaining the British and Irish Lions come June, as if his own coaching staff is reluctant to put their faith in his leadership, what chance does he have of leading the squad Down Under. The in-form Justin Tipuric drops to the bench, and another poor performance from Warburton will see questions arise as to whether he should even be on the plane to Australia.
Alun-Wyn Jones also returns to the side after making his comeback of the bench in Wales’ 26-9 win over Italy. The Ospreys lock replaces Andrew Coombs, who has impressed while deputising for the 68-cap veteran, but Jones should bring a bigger presence in the line-out, having led the Welsh set-piece attack for many years, as well as a wealth of experience having been a key figure in last year’s Grand Slam campaign.
Coombs joins Tipuric as a replacement, while prop Gethin Jenkins will miss out with a calf injury. Bath’s Paul James comes into the front-row for the Toulon forward, whose absence may weaken a scrum that took apart the Italians in Rome.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Matthew Scott, Tim Visser; Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray; Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton; Rob Harley, Kelly Brown (c), John Beattie.
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Geoff Cross, Alastair Kellock, Ryan Wilson, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Max Evans.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Rich\rd Hibbard, Adam Jones; Alun-Wyn Jones, Ian Evans; Ryan Jones (c), Sam Warburton, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Scott Andrews, Craig Mitchell, Andrew Coombs, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams.
KICK-OFF: Saturday, 2.30pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS...
Wales 27 Scotland 13, Six Nations, February 2012
Scotland 6 Wales 24, Six Nations, February 2011
Wales 31 Scotland 24, Six Nations, February 2010
The two sides have met 117 times – Scotland have won 48, Wales have won 66 and there have been just 3 draws.
The Scotland starting XV has just two tries previously against Wales, with Sean Lamont and Greig Laidlaw scoring one each – replacement Max Evans has scored twice as well.
On the other hand, Wales have eight tries against Scotland between their squad, with Leigh Halfpenny scoring half of those – Alex Cuthbert, Adam Jones, Ryan Jones and James Hook have one each.
Scotland have not won against Wales since their 21-9 victory at Murrayfield in February 2007.
Scotland have not won three games in a row in the Six Nations since they beat Italy, Ireland and France in the 1999 championship – although they won three games consecutively against Australia, Fiji and Samoa last summer.
13 February 2010 – Wales 31 Scotland 24
Scotland scored early tries through John Barclay and Max Evans to lead 3-15 in Cardiff. Dan Parks and Stephen Jones traded penalties along with two drop goals for the Scottish fly-half before a second-half try from Lee Byrne left the score at 14-24 with ten minutes to go. With Scotland seeing Scott Lawson sin-binned, Wales took advantage and scored through Leigh Halfpenny to trail by three. Jones slotted a last minute penalty to level the scores following Phil Godman also seeing yellow, before Shane Williams burst over the line in the final play of the game to secure one of the greatest comebacks in Six Nations history.
PLAYER TO WATCH...
Scotland: Greig Laidlaw – The scrum-half has been hugely influential in the victories over Italy and Ireland, not to mention his reliability with the boot when kicking at goal. When the forwards give him quick ball, he is able to unleash what has turned into a dangerous backline, and his tactical box-kicking brought into play the threatening wingers Sean Maitland and Tim Visser. His ability to bring others into the game will go a long way if Scotland are to triumph on Saturday.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny – Scotland will have to ensure their discipline is at its best as if they concede anywhere in their own half, Halfpenny will have no hesitation in kicking for goal. The full-back has already shown he is comfortable to take aim from halfway, and he has demonstrated a breathtaking counter attacking game that has been a shining light for the Welsh in what has been a tough year since their Grand Slam victory against France last year.
TV: Live on BBC1 at 2.30pm.