All teams in all sports, especially at the international level, have their ideal of the perfect week’s preparation. They do not include a week long saga over whether two of your nation’s fiercest rivals – the rivals that provide 13 of your squad players – will be merged together, with contrasting statements posted basically every half hour, but Wales have overcome adversity before and are still just favourites to get past Scotland.
Warren Gatland’s men hadn’t impressed many in two victories over France and Italy, but they are a side who progress through tournaments and they improved hugely to bring down an England side that had looked unbeatable in their first two games.
Key to that victory was the outstanding defensive work of Shaun Edwards, as Wales managed to stop the England kicking game at source in the second half, as Wales gripped the ball tight and squeezed England out of the game, with 68% of possession and 72% of territory in the second half; As an example, the run up to Cory Hill’s try saw Wales go through 34 phases.
Indeed, Wales managed to get more ball against England than in their games against France and Italy, and they will be looking to repeat that against a Scotland side known for their running game.
From Rob Evans to Liam Williams, there wasn’t a Welshman who didn’t manage to hit their tackles and having had a week off, they will aim for the same again in what is set to be a very windy, but dry, Murrayfield.
The timing was perfect for Wales when they played England, but with hindsight they might well have preferred to take on Scotland a fortnight ago. Gregor Townsend’s men had been decimated by injury before their trip to France – they had an entire team who missed the game – but there has been good news from the treatment room since.
WP Nel and Hamish Watson’s return to bolster the pack couldn’t have come any sooner but all eyes will be on Finn Russell, who missed the defeat in Paris but who has since recovered from his HIA, playing a leading role in Racing 92’s trashing of La Rochelle last week (including a try for himself).
Russell might well bond better with the quickfire Ali Price, his previous partner at the Warriors, and that could be just the ticket to get ball moving to backline, which has manged to avoid the bulk of the serious injuries. Stuart Hogg is a miss but Blair Kinghorn has performed very well in the tournament and there’s still a key target to hit in the shape of Pete Horne. Horne will need to have a strong carrying day in what promises to be foul conditions with high winds as well as the potential for rain and sleet.
That points to a low scoring game despite the attacking talent on show and in such circumstance there’s unlikely to be much between the two teams at the end.
2pts Scotland +4.5 No Draw H’Cap (4/5 general)
1 pt back to lay, Draw (20 Betfair, 22 Betdaq)
1 pt Under 42.5 points (10/11 Ladbrokes)
Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Darcy Graham, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (c), 1 Allan Dell
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Byron McGuigan
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin
Date: Saturday, March 9
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce (England), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)