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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Wales forwards hold key in Cardiff clash with Scotland

Injuries could play key role in deciding outcome

Rhys Patchell starts at fly-half for Wales
1 of 1

BBC1, S4C & TV3, 2.15pm Saturday

Wales are narrow favourites for the opening clash of this year's Six Nations against Scotland but there's a huge difference in punters' expectations for these sides over the course of the tournament.

Buoyant Scotland are on the march after taking a huge leap forward in 2017 and many bookmakers have reported significant support for the Scots at big prices to win the tournament.

Wales, in contrast, have been virtually friendless as their injury woes have piled up, depriving coach Warren Gatland of at least nine first-choice players including an entire back row and regular half-back pairing Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar.

There's no doubt that Scotland will see this as a huge opportunity against a Welsh side who often start slowly in the tournament and are likely to be even shorter of cohesion and preparation.

But the depth of talent available to Gatland has greatly increased in recent years, and it would be unwise to write off the Welsh too hastily.

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Rhys Patchell comes in for Biggar at fly-half with only five caps to his name, but he won the first of those in 2013 and he is in good form for the Scarlets, although mostly at full-back.

Scrum-half Gareth Davies is more experienced while Ross Moriarty, who has perhaps the biggest boots of all to fill as he starts at number eight in place of Taulupe Faletau, put in a storming performance against England a year ago and many criticised Wales stand-in coach Rob Howley for taking him off too early when Wales were ahead.

But where Wales offer perhaps the biggest threat is in their tight five, which mercifully for them appears to have evaded the injury curse that has blighted the rest of the team, and there is every chance the hosts will look to take on the Scots at their weakest point - in the pack.

Scotland want fast ball to get their lightning backs moving and they pose a huge tryscoring threat. But if the Wales forwards can put the squeeze on a second-choice, or perhaps even third-choice, Scotland front row and deny them a platform, that threat can be negated.

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With the ever-reliable Leigh Halfpenny there to kick for goal from anywhere in the opposition half, Wales look to have the tools to edge a narrow win.

Wales penalty first scoring play
1pt 9-5 BoyleSports
Wales to win by one to 12 points
1pt 15-8 Sky Bet

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Where Wales offer perhaps the biggest threat is in their tight five, which mercifully for them appears to have evaded the injury curse
E.W. Terms
Sky bet