Preview: Scotland v Wales

Date published: February 13 2015

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Both these two teams enter on the back of respective yet very different defeats. The question now is who will respond the better on Sunday.

For the Welsh this is a vital game as Six Nations hopes are on the line. However, they will be buoyed by how 2013 played out after Round 1.

If they are to repeat that impressive turnaround in form and claim the Championship, Wales will have to mend plenty of wounds from Cardiff. Psychologically the damage done in that second-half by England could be seismic while concussion debates have dominated the media the week.

George North is subsequently sitting this one out, despite confirmation he’s symptom-free, as his place goes to Liam Williams, a player who was unlucky to miss the opener. While they’ll miss North’s physical presence, Williams brings different attributes that could hurt Scotland.

It all started so brightly for Warren Gatland’s outfit as ten points were accumulated by Dan Biggar’s boot and Rhys Webb’s opening try. But the second-half saw a momentum switch as England took the match to their hosts and did not look back at a shell-shocked Millennium Stadium.

Scotland meanwhile were impressive in defeat to France, continuing on from promising performances during November as Vern Cotter’s influence seems to be bearing fruit. If they can carry on this upward curve then it’d be hard not to see them securing a couple of Championship wins.

Crucially their centre combination of Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett have passed fitness test, with the only change to their backline seeing Tommy Seymour ruled out and replaced by veteran Sean Lamont. Up front they were always going to have to account for Euan Murray missing the game as it’s on Sunday. Geoff Cross, who has been in great form for London Irish this season, is a more than adequate tighthead to come in.

Scotland need to build on that strong Paris showing in the set-piece and will no doubt have analysed England’s ability to turn the screw in Cardiff, something the likes of Cross, Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson and the Gray brothers will want to replicate at BT Sport Murrayfield.

Wales though are a wounded animal and have not become a bad team overnight, with their pack expected to launch a stern response while Webb and Biggar pull the strings. It is fascinatingly poised as this new and improved Scottish side hope to twist the knife into Wales on Sunday.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: He was once again impressive in the blue jersey last weekend and expect Jonny Gray to lead the Scottish charge against Wales. He made 19 tackles and also had a couple of line-out steals to his name in another top performance alongside his brother. It is also worth highlighting Ross Ford‘s return to form after a difficult year while Stuart Hogg will be a threat from full-back.

For Wales: Some thought he should have started last Friday after an excellent first half of the season for the Scarlets, but Liam Williams will get his chance on Sunday due to North missing out. By no means the biggest wing but what he lacks in size, Williams makes up for in hunger and bravery and he will relish this opportunity. Also keep one eye on the always threatening Rhys Webb at the base.

Head-to-head: We have to zoom in on the midfield for this one as four superb centres go toe-to-toe. Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett have been outstanding for Glasgow this season and are backing that up with good showings on the Test scene. They face Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, who like the rest of their team-mates know that they need to up the ante at Murrayfield. As hooker Richard Hibbard mentioned in the week, the squad “owe” head coach Warren Gatland so expect a frantic opening 20 minutes between these two.

Recent results:

2014: Wales won 51-3 in Cardiff
2013: Wales won 28-18 in Edinburgh
2012: Wales won 27-13 in Cardiff
2011: Wales won 24-6 in Edinburgh
2010: Wales won 31-24 in Cardiff
2009: Wales won 26-13 in Edinburgh
2008: Wales won 30-15 in Cardiff
2007: Scotland won 21-9 in Edinburgh

Prediction: Such a hard call to make as Scotland arrive back from France in good spirits and are more than capable of getting a first victory over Wales since 2007. But, we just think Wales will do enough to get back on the winning trail, only just mind. Wales by 2!

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Alasdair Strokosch, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Matt Scott

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.

Date: Sunday, February 15
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: George Clancy, Dudley Phillips
TMO: Simon McDowell

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