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Scotland v Wales: Six Nations preview

Ryan Cryle previews Wales upcoming clash against Scotland

THERE is no question Wales must improve if they are going to overcome a reinvigorated Scotland side at Murrayfield on Sunday.

The fallout from the disappointing 21-16 defeat to England will be nine days old by Sunday, but feels much longer already. The post-match discussion could have been series ending for some of the Welsh players.

Among those si2322175918_19fbfa698f_ongled out for criticism last Friday was Richard Hibbard (for mistakes at the lineout), Gethin Jenkins (for going missing in the second half), Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies and Dan Lydiate. But the whole team looked short on ideas. In the second half they let a physically dominant England bully them – not acceptable for a side containing no fewer than 11 British and Irish Lions.

Leigh Halfpenny was reliable as always, while Rhys Webb and Taulupe Faletau combined ingeniously for Wales’ early try.

But, all in all, the drawbacks of “Warrenball” reared their head once more, and the lack of a “Plan B” was again obvious. Wales’s forwards struggled to compete with England in the second half, and were unable to create gaps in their defensive line as a result. George North and Cuthbert spent portions of the match looking isolated.

Fans had called for Liam Williams, Scott Williams, Paul James and Justin Tipuric to be installed from the start to shake things up. Their wishes have partly been granted as the West Walian flier has been called up to the starting XV.

Samson Lee and North will miss out on medical grounds. World Rugby found the former should have been substituted after being knocked unconscious last week. But, the governing body cleared Wales’s medical team of any wrongdoing.

Wales cannot afford to lose their own scrum again, like they did last Friday. They also cannot allow soft tries to be scored against them – like Jonathan Joseph’s last time out.

It has been reported Warren Gatland was so incensed after Wales threw away their 16-8 half time lead, he did not say a word to the players in the dressing room. Skip forward to this week, and if Wales are vulnerable against invention, what is to say Scotland cannot unlock them as England did?

Luckily for Wales, their “Plan A” may work against a Scottish team lacking world-beating physicality. But Scotland are fast-becoming a clever, little team.

Although often overpowered in the scrum and maul Scotland’s defence stood firm against the French last week. Jonny Gray made 19 tackles, while Wales’s highest tackling player was Lydiate with 15.

Going forward Scotland are increasingly fleet of foot with ball in hand. Finn Russell is a direct halfback, while captain Greig Laidlaw is smart in his distribution.

The Scots’ most dangerous player, full-back Stuart Hogg, was immense against the French, and Wales will have to keep an eye on Sean Lamont too ­– a capable replacement for the injured Tommy Seymour. But when Vern Cotter’s side find themselves deep in their opponent’s 22, their lack of power often shows and they look impotent; unable to hammer their way across the try line.

Sunday’s game will lack the intense psychological warfare, which dominated the build-up until the lights came on at the Millennium Stadium, but there will be tension still. Scotland are playing like ateam eager to impress, while Wales will need to prove they can handle the weight of a nation’s hopes. Come Sunday the two nations will be squaring off against an ideal of themselves, as well as each other. Scotland hopes for more progression, Wales fear regression.

Wales team to face Scotland: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), Liam Williams (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Richard Hibbard (Gloucester), Aaron Jarivs (Ospreys), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, CAPT), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons). 

Scotland team to face Wales: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby); Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester, CAPT); Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Geoff Cross (London Irish), Richie Gray (Castres), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish) Johnnie Beattie (Castres).

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