Wales have physical edge to claim crucial victory
Key absences set to hurt Scotland
BBC1 & RTE2, 2.25pm Saturday
Legendary Australian winger Nick Cummins once summed up an ultra-tight contest with the glorious expression “there’s a bee’s wanger in it” and that colourful phrase could well be rolled out for the opening Six Nations round-three contest between Scotland and Wales.
Bookmakers rate Wales the narrowest of favourites and that view is backed up by the evidence of the last two years, a 27-23 victory for the Welsh at home last season and a 26-23 success in Edinburgh the year before. In 2014 the Scots were hammered 51-3 at the Millennium Stadium but they were down to 14 men for almost the entire game.
Both sides, rested from a weekend off, should run out full of confidence. A blistering round-one victory over Ireland means Scotland’s only defeat in their last five home Tests was by one point to Australia in November and they played well for spells in an away defeat to France a fortnight ago.
But that trip to France came at a cost as captain and goalkicker Greig Laidlaw plus back-row forward Josh Strauss, their most effective ball-carrier against Les Bleus, picked up injuries that leave them sidelined today.
Ali Price, who replaced Laidlaw at the Stade de France a fortnight ago, starts at scrum-half, and although there were concerns that the backline lost their way a little, Price and fly-half Finn Russell are two of ten Glasgow players in the starting line-up and so form a familiar half-back combination.
But Laidlaw's direction and leadership will almost certainly be missed, while losing Strauss's presence will also be a key factor for a team who have struggle to cope with physical pressure.
The Scotland scrum were a clear second-best to Ireland in their opening match while a powerful France pack also turned the screw on them in Paris.
Wales have won the last nine Six Nations matches between these two going back to Warren Gatland's first season in 2008 and the more physical approach Wales have adopted in that time must be a factor in Scotland's long run of defeats.
Wales didn’t get the result they wanted at home to England two weeks ago but their performance was up there with their very best showings and they went toe-to-toe for almost the entire match.
Key match statistics such as possession and territory were virtually even but one area where Wales were on top was at the breakdown, where they won seven turnovers to England's three.
Coach Rob Howley has stuck with the same back row who performed so well against England, with Taulupe Faletau ready to come off the bench, and that looks to be a crucial area where Wales can come out on top.
Scotland's big threat comes from their back three, where Tim Visser replaces the injured Sean Maitland on the wing, but they are up against a strong defensive unit who have not conceded more than three tries in a Six Nations match since a home defeat to Ireland in the opening round of 2013.
Conditions look sure to play a part as the after-effects of Storm Doris are still felt. Heavy rain is forecast to clear by kick-off but winds gusting up to 30mph are expected.
It looks sure to be tight and hard-fought, but the physical edge of Wales should see them extend their winning run.
Wales to win by one to 12 points
2pts 19-10 Sky Bet