Wales vs. Scotland: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape Six Nations Clash

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

Wales vs. Scotland: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape Six Nations Clash

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    Despite being the least attractive fixture among the Six Nations curtain closers this weekend, Wales and Scotland's meeting at the Millennium Stadium still promises to be a blockbuster.

    Following their loss to England last weekend, Warren Gatland's team are no longer in the running for this year's title, while Scotland are now merely hoping that they maintain their spot off the bottom of the standings.

    Ahead of the Cardiff collision, we've examined some of the battles that are most likely to influence the tie, with a raft of high-profile individuals set to star. 

1. Liam Williams vs. Stuart Hogg

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    With Leigh Halfpenny ruled out for the season after dislocating his right shoulder in the loss to England, Liam Williams stands as the most likely candidate to fill in for Wales at full-back.

    And it's a daunting test that stands before the Llanelli flyer, with Stuart Hogg, fresh after impressing in Scotland's narrow loss to France, lined up opposite.

    A lot more emphasis now falls on the kicking game of Rhys Priestland with surefire striker Halfpenny out of contention, but Williams' reliability under the high ball may also be pinpointed by the Scots, not quite up to par with the man he's replacing.

2. Taulupe Faletau vs. David Denton

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    David Denton will have been as upset as any regarding the tight manner in which Scotland lost to France last weekend, given that he still managed to draw man-of-the-match honours in the process.

    It was a controversial decision of Scott Johnson's to drop Denton out of the team several weeks ago, but his return against les Bleus showed exactly what Scotland were missing at the back of the scrum without Denton around.

    Taulupe Faletau's place in the Welsh XV isn't anywhere near as debatable, and the Newport Gwent Dragon has been as busy as ever in this championship.

    With two such strong runners of the ball set to duke it out, one can expect to see this pair peering around the corners of their respective scrums, rucks and mauls, colliding in the hopes of enforcing their sizeable frames upon the fixture.

3. Jonathan Davies vs. Alex Dunbar

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    Jonathan Davies was just one of those players neutralised by England at Twickenham in Week 4, with prop David Wilson even managing to clock up more yardage with ball in hand than the Welsh centre.

    However, the challenge of Alex Dunbar won't be considered quite as fearsome for Davies, who after returning from injury can at least look forward to ending his tournament on a high note.

    Dunbar showed with his brace of tries against Italy that he and Matt Scott have the potential to form a strong centre partnership in the years to come, and it's in midfield that Wales will seek to correct a lot of mistakes that emerged in London.

4. Alun-Wyn Jones vs. Richie Gray

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    The locks have been an area of inconsistency for Wales of late, with Luke Charteris, Jake Ball and Alun-Wyn Jones each interchanging to accommodate injuries in recent weeks.

    Among that trio, Jones stands as the learned mentor, and the British and Irish Lions leader figure will have a tough test in competing against the Scottish line-out, often looked upon as a major strength of theirs.

    That being said, despite Richie Gray's best efforts, Johnson's set piece hasn't been up to scratch throughout this tournament, with Wales looking to rule the line-out just as England did in Edinburgh during Week 2.

    Jones and Gray's battle in that arena will be of great intrigue, but it's also a point of interest to see what two such mobile second-row stars contribute defensively, with each player capable of amassing high-tackling numbers for their respective teams.

5. George North vs. Tommy Seymour

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    Though both found themselves on the ends of disappointing defeats, George North and Tommy Seymour went through very different individual performances in Week 5.

    Scotland winger Seymour managed to score a sumptuous try against Philippe Saint-Andre's men, scything through French lines thanks to a brilliant Matt Scott ball off the shoulder, whereas North was at the root of some of Wales' biggest mistakes.

    But the young British and Irish Lion isn't the type not to dust himself down and bounce back from that failure, this weekend's meeting with Scotland just another chance for the speedster to assert his influence once again.

    With Sean Lamont out through injury, Seymour is Johnson's most match-fit wide man, and Scotland will be relying upon the back line once again to seek out those pieces of innovative play that rose to the fore during the second half against Italy and the first period against France.