The Welsh hold a 22-year winning streak vs the Scots in Cardiff, but records are there to be broken… Our regular Rugby Union tipster Alex Cox is back with his preview and picks for the opening round of Six Nations fixtures.
On Saturday afternoon, Gregor Townsend will bring his Scotland side down to the Principality Stadium on a mission to end a painful run of 9 straight Six Nations losses. Standing in their way will be Warren Gatland’s fresh-faced side and 75,000 Welsh voices.
Neither side will be particularly satisfied by their World Cup performance last year, with the Scot’s hardly firing a shot before making an early exit and the Welsh blowing their Quarter Final vs Argentina. This Six Nations acts a chance to right some wrongs, whilst allowing the next generation to make a mark and both sides will be desperate to get off to a winning start to ignite their 6 Nations hopes.
I think we will see an extra level of bite from the Scot’s this weekend. They have a point to prove to reach and sustain the standard of Rugby that many know they are capable of, but over a full 80 minutes. However due to the Scot’s lineup stability plus exciting backline, I think they will beat this inexperienced Welsh side and cover the minus.
Gatland has had no option but to look to the next generation of Welsh players, with so many usual starter’s unavailable, including Jac Morgan, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams, Will Rowlands, George North, Talupe Faletau, Dewi Lake, Leigh Halfpenny and of course Louis Rees-Zammit after his NFL move.
It means we’ll see a debutant at 15 in Cam Winnett and you can certainly expect Finn Russell to test the youngster out early. Watkins comes into 13 to plug the George North shaped hole and Sam Costelow is given the 10 shirt for the first time in a 6 Nations match. He is an attack minded player but his game management is still a work in progress.
Wales will also miss Dan Biggar’s reliable right boot as Costelow doesn’t quite have the same ability off the tee that Biggar has shown over the years. In early January Costelow had two opportunities with straight-forward late kicks at goal, of which either could have won the game for Scarlets, but both sailed wide.
The forward pack sees Ryan Elias at Hooker, with Domachowski and Brown either side. Captain and promising youngster Dafydd Jenkins is named in the second row. Tommy Reffell is at 7 and is arguably one of the best poachers in the Norther Hemisphere. He will be vital in attempting to slow down Ben White’s distribution from the breakdown.
Scotland’s lineup is as expected, although injuries to Kinghorn, Darcy Graham and Rory Darge have meant a few changes. Kyle Rowe gets the nod at 15, but has minimal experience in that position meaning like Winnett, he can expect an aerial bombardment. However if he is given space to run the ball back, expect him to break the line.
Glasgow’s Kyle Steyn slots in on the right wing, alongside his clubmates Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu in the midfield. The self proclaimed “Messi of Rugby”, Finn Russell, will Captain the side from 10 and he will manage the game with his wide array of passing and kicking skills.
Townsend has chosen Schoeman, Turner and Fagerson in the front row and more Glasgow teammates in Richie Gray and Scott Cummings make up the second row. Crosbie and Ritchie are on the flanks and the ball carrying Matt Fagerson is at 8. This pack will need to set a solid platform for the Scot’s, which is sometimes a struggle at Test level. However with an understrength Welsh pack, I think we’ll see Scotland get over the gain line and find some joy from the set-piece.
Scotland -3.5 @ 5/6
At Murrayfield last year, with the Netflix camera’s looking on, Scotland produced a dominant performance and recorded their biggest ever winning margin win vs Wales. Although I think it will be closer in Cardiff this year, there is more than enough talent and power in this Scotland side to overturn the recent history.
The crowd will certainly play their part – hence why Townsend opted to keep the roof closed and minimize the noise – but I have faith in Finn Russell’s experience to guide this Scotland side to victory.
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