Scotland vs. Wales: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 2015 Six Nations Clash
Scotland host Wales in Round 2 of the Six Nations with both sides coming off defeats in Week 1.
The nature of those results, however, sit at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Wales were poor barring the opening half hour in Cardiff, and were blown away in the second half by a powerful English pack and a dash of artistry in midfield.
They have spent their week fending off criticism over their handling of George North’s concussion episodes, per Paul Rees in the Guardian, and they eventually had to leave the Lions star out of their side for the weekend.
Scotland, on the other hand, gave a good account of themselves in Paris. They scored the game’s only try and were strong enough to withstand the assault from a monstrous French pack trying to breach their line.
It is Vern Cotter’s men who will run out at Murrayfield full of hope, while Wales will need to be ready for a Scottish onslaught and pray their forwards go better than last week.
Let’s have a look at the key battles.
1. The Breakdown
Let’s start with an obvious one. The stats, per ESPN Scrum, from Round 1, tell us Scotland coughed up 21 turnovers in attack compared to Wales’ 14.
Sam Warburton had a quiet game in general against England, but he will have an important role to play in slowing the Scots’ tempo.
Scotland fly-half Finn Russell has ignited a Glasgow back line this season by coming flat onto the ball and using his powerful centres and wings to do the damage in the Pro 12.
If Warburton and his back-row colleagues can wrap the Scottish ball up at the tackle area, this supply line, vital to Scotland’s philosophy, will be impeded.
Turnovers at the ruck for Wales will also give Dan Biggar the chance to find space behind the Scottish line.
Scots full-back Stuart Hogg is such a key attacker for the home side, he is likely to be up in the line sniffing for gaps when his side has the ball. If Wales can rob it, there will be space for Biggar to exploit down-field.
On Scotland’s side, Blair Cowan is the archetypal scavenging No. 7. Tipped by ex-England star and BBC pundit Jeremy Guscott to be one of the stars of the championship, per (GetReading), the New Zealand-born London Irish man’s duel with the Lions skipper will be intriguing.
2. The Sky…
Or more pointedly, the balls raining down from it. Wales leathered the ball high and long against England, and largely suffered for it.
WalesOnline’s Gwyn Jones doesn’t expect a change of tactic from the Welsh kicking game but insisted they must execute this time:
Robin McBryde has stated that Wales will continue to kick the way they always try to and Jamie Roberts has said that Wales must compete far better in the air against Scotland.
Indeed, England completely dominated the aerial battle thanks to a combination of poor kicking and awful chasing. Scotland will know what to expect and will no doubt relish the chance to run back at Wales.
Stuart Hogg is a very similar player to Mike Brown, who was gifted 15 metres of running room before confronting a tackler in the Millennium Stadium.
Wales kept kicking it to him and he kept running the ball back into Welsh territory and thus Warren Gatland’s men could never escape from their half.
The Welsh are unlikely to kick to the safety of the touchline. They never have done, and with Scotland’s driving line-out looking so powerful, Wales will not want to give them an opportunity to demonstrate its power.
3. The Scrum
Wales got battered in the scrum against England. Samson Lee, for all his promise, was given a pasting by Joe Marler, and Gethin Jenkins fared equally poorly against Dan Cole.
Scotland won’t be looking to heave the Welsh pack backwards in search of pushover tries, but they will sense that there were weaknesses to be exploited here.
They will be without the experienced Euan Murray who doesn’t play on Sundays, but with the powerful hooker Ross Ford at the tip of the spear they will look to attack the Welsh put-in.
Scotland fell foul of the referee’s whistle on too many occasions in Paris, according to hooker Ross Ford, who said, per BBC Sport:
I watched the game back, we played some good rugby at times, asked them some serious questions and made some good line breaks - then it came down to discipline.
They fed off our ill discipline and kept the scoreboard ticking over. It is frustrating but no-one actively looks to give away stupid penalties.
And skipper Greig Laidlaw has already revealed he will be seeking the advice of Sunday’s official Glen Jackson, per BBC Sport: "We'll speak to the referee before the game and get his interpretations, make sure we're on the right wavelength and hopefully I can talk him round if needed."
With Leigh Halfpenny one of the world’s most reliable goal-kickers, this will be a key area on Sunday.
The Lions full-back showed against England that he can kick three-pointers from virtually anywhere inside the opposition half, and Scotland will need to bear that in mind if they don’t want to be strangled by his trusty boot.
5. The Big Ball-Carriers
Scotland and Wales both have second-row pairings who can make important yards with ball in hand.
For Wales, this is usually a case of Jake Ball and Alun-Wyn Jones smashing the ball up in early phases to suck defenders in before it goes wide.
Scotland’s Gray brothers are of the more marauding type, looking for the ball slightly wider from the breakdown where an inside pass to either of them can exploit holes between nine and 10.
Their work rate is insatiable, and if they out-carry their Welsh counterparts it could be a key factor in this battle.