Scotland will encounter a Wales side oozing confidence when round two of the Six Nations concludes at the Millennium Stadium.
Scotland will encounter a Wales side oozing confidence when round two of the Six Nations concludes at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday.
The opening round of the Championship was a weekend of contrasting fortunes for the two sides.
Wales underlined their status as potential Six Nations champions with a rousing 23-21 victory over Ireland in Dublin. It was a wonderful advert for Six Nations rugby with two teams going at it hammer and tongs for a game won in the last 20 seconds.
That win came less than 24 hours after Scotland had started their challenge with a 13-6 loss to England at Murrayfield. The Scots created enough chances to have beaten their visitors last week, however simple errors coupled with a lack of tries led to another disappointing defeat for Andy Robinson's men, who have now lost three on the trot.
Just once in 13 attempts have Scotland won on the opening weekend of the tournament since Italy joined the Five Nations in 2000.
Scotland must now attempt to bounce back and beat the Welsh in their own back yard – something they have failed to achieve in a decade.
They came mighty close though in their last Cardiff contest after leading by ten points with seven minutes remaining, only for the now retired Shane Williams to score a last-gasp try to secure a dramatic 31-24 come-from-behind victory.
Winning away from home has been a wee bit of a problem for the Scots in the Six Nations, where they have won just once on the road since 2006 (23-20 against Ireland at Croke Park in 2010).
But despite Scotland's poor showing last weekend and dismal away record, Wales will do well not to underestimate Sunday's visitors who are expected to come out all guns blazing after asking for the Millennium Stadium roof to be closed.
With wet weather being forecast, Scotland – notwithstanding the apparent lack of abilities to score tries (at least in the past four games) – have backed themselves to take on Wales at their own expansive game.
“We cannot afford to underestimate Scotland, the amount of possession and territory they had against England last weekend meant that they should have won the game and they will come to the Millennium Stadium buoyed by that knowledge,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.
Wales have won the opening two games of a Six Nations campaign on just two previous occasions – in 2005 and 2008 – and each time they went on to win the title and Grand Slam. Three of the World Cup semi-finalists' remaining four games are in Cardiff, starting on Sunday when try-shy Scotland arrive at the Millennium Stadium.
But following Wales' heroics in Dublin, the build-up to Sunday's Test has been blighted by the suspension of Bradley Davies, who will miss the rest of this season's tournament after collecting a seven-week ban for a reckless tip-tackle on Ireland replacement Donnacha Ryan last weekend.
Davies is the second Wales player suspended for that offence this season following Sam Warburton's dismissal and three-week punishment for an incident in the World Cup semi-final against France last October.
Davies now joins his fellow World Cup locks Luke Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones on the international sidelines. But in a triple boost for Gatland, flanker Dan Lydiate has recovered from an ankle injury to reclaim the number six shirt, prop Gethin Jenkins has recovered from knee trouble to start and skipper Warburton also features after being in doubt with a leg injury.
However, Warburton has been wrapped in cotton wool this whole week and took a very limited part in training while staying clear of any contact work. Whether he actually leads the team out hangs in the balance and probably won't be known until the morning of the match.
In a game where the back-row battle will be absolutely crucial, everyone in the Welsh camp – and in Wales as a whole – will be keeping their fingers crossed that the inspirational skipper can defy the injury odds and help guide his team to back-to-back wins.
Wales are favourites, but nobody should have any illusions how tough this match will be…
Ones to watch:
For Wales: Former Wales captain Ryan Jones will, as expected, fill the second-row void against Scotland caused by Bradley Davies' seven-week suspension. Jones was exceptional at blindside flanker against Ireland in Dublin and his versatility is proving of immeasurable value to Gatland.
For Scotland: With Dan Parks calling it quits from Test rugby this week, Greig Laidlaw inherits the number 10 jersey for Scotland. The Edinburgh skipper won the first two of his three caps as a replacement scrum-half, before coming on at fly-half for Parks in the Calcutta Cup defeat to England. Yet an impressive display during the small amount of time he was on the pitch has been rewarded with his first Test start.
Head to head: Toby Faletau v David Denton. Scotland's Zimbabwean-born number eight Denton was deservedly named man-of-the-match following his Herculean ball-carrying against England last Saturday, and much of the same will be required against the tough as nails Faletau, who will always be found where the battle is at its most ferocious.
2011: Wales won 24-6, Edinburgh
2010: Wales won 31-24, Cardiff
2009: Wales won 26-13, Edinburgh
2008: Wales won 30-15, Cardiff
2007: Scotland won 21-9, Edinburgh
2006: Wales won 28-18, Cardiff
2005: Wales won 46-22, Edinburgh
2004: Wales won 23-10, Cardiff
2003: Wales won 23-9, Cardiff
2003: Scotland won 30-22, Edinburgh
Prediction: Neither history or form is with Scotland heading into this match, and while we're sure they'll give it a good crack – we just can't see Wales letting this one slip. Wales to win by nine points!
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Ryan Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Lou Reed, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 James Hook, 22 Scott Williams.
Scotland: 15 Rory Lamont, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Sean Lamont, 11 Max Evans, 10 Greig Laidlaw, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 David Denton, 7 Ross Rennie, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford (c), 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Ed Kalman, 18 Alastair Kellock, 19 John Barclay, 20 Mike Blair, 21 Duncan Weir, 22 Stuart Hogg.
Date: Sunday, February 12
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 15:00 (15:00 GMT)
Expected weather: Cloudy with a