We preview Saturday’s 6 Nations clash between Scotland and Wales.
Wales visit Murrayfield this Saturday in the midst of a growing concern over Scotland, and the injuries that are beginning to compromise their promising start to the new campaign.
Scotland v Wales | Saturday 25 February | Murrayfield | 16:25
To Win (80 Mins)
Scotland 21/20 | Draw 18/1 | Wales 17/20
Scotland (-) | Wales (+)
*Handicap to be added upon release
If you had asked Vern Cotter at the beginning of the season, what his biggest fear for 2017’s Six Nations campaign was, he would have referenced his skipper succumbing to injury without a hesitation. And now, just two rounds in, his worst nightmares have been realised as Greig Laidlaw, Scotland’s most influential player, has been struck down by ankle trouble. The Clermont Auvergne-bound Gloucester scrumhalf was forced off just 25 minutes into his side’s narrow 22-16 defeat at the hands of the French, and his place in the starting side is set to be taken up by the young Ali Price who, although performing admirably at the Stade de France, will struggle to fill the boots of his captain.
Laidlaw’s kicking game and all-round game-management skills will be sorely missed by his side, and flyhalf Finn Russell will now need to assume command of SS Scotland, and guide them as best he can through these treacherous next few weeks. On top of the Laidlaw setback, Josh Strauss (who made a whopping 48 metres and 15 clean breaks in his side’s last hit-out) has to been ruled out of the final fixtures of the tournament, albeit through a kidney injury.
Cotter will want his side to show the tenacity and steely-mindedness that is a hallmark of his coaching philosophy, and fight on in this campaign. However, although their play may satisfy these wishes, they should still fall short results-wise. Wales are a settled team who will believe that they can still challenge for the title, and that they can take this one, thus extending their nine-match winning streak over their opposition to ten.
Electrifying players like Stuart Hogg (who has already racked up three tries in the campaign), Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland, and the firepower of Richie and Jonny Gray could yet see Scotland cause an upset. Recent history and form however, say different.
Rob Howley will feel aggrieved at the way his Welsh side blew their lead against England last time out. Leading 16-14 with five minutes to go, Dan Biggar kicked the ball (rather awfully) straight down the middle of the park and into the hands of George Ford, who ran the ball back near the 40m mark. Two simple passes later and Elliot Daly was over in the corner to affectively end the contest in favour of the away side. After exiting their red-zone so clinically over the course of the entire match, Biggar’s aimless punt downfield would have cut the Dragons even deeper. With their Grand Slam prospects out the window, Howley will focus his side’s attention on winning every one of their remaining games to finish as high up on the table as possible, and they will travel to Murrayfield in the knowledge that they have what it takes to defeat their hosts.
Alun Wyn Jones, who this past week was touted by British & Irish Lions legends Brian O’Driscoll and Martin Johnson as the favorite to claim the captaincy for the upcoming series in New Zealand, will want to continue his rich vein of form and potentially win over more praise with another stellar showing this weekend. S
Sitting in tied-for-third, three points below log-leaders England, Jones will expect his charges to increase the pressure at the summit of the standings by winning the first fixture of the weekend. Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Liam Williams will also look to stamp their authority on the game from the back, and seek to combat the pace and guile of Scotland’s own dangerous back-three.
Verdict: Wales 17/20
In what is sure to be a fiercely contested affair in the first-half, Wales should have the experience and firepower to down the injury-depleted Scots by the end of the eighty minutes.