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Preview: Scotland v Wales

08th March 2013 06:04

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Scotland duo Geoff Cross celebrating with Stuart Hogg

Scotland: Can they make it three?

Scotland or Wales could move joint-top of the Six Nations and possibly overtake leaders England with a big victory at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Granted, such a possibility is expected to last for only 24 hours but applying pressure is going to be critical if they are to usurp the Red Rose in 2013.

England are in a strong spot and despite Sergio Parisse being back at the tail for the Azzurri, they should be in great shape going into Round 5.

Stuart Lancaster's men currently hold a 17 and 28-point cushion over Wales and Scotland respectively, which on form should grow at the end of the week. However, stranger things have happened in rugby than Italy finding away day form so the Celts won't be giving up just yet.

In contrast to Italy's travelling blues, it is worth noting that Wales approach this match gunning for their fifth straight Six Nations win on the road.

For the Scots of the 21st century, this is unchartered territory as they have not won three successive games in the tournament since it was the Five Nations - a 16-14 win over Wales in 1996 set up a Grand Slam shot against England, which they lost. Therefore, a victory should be their immediate objective.

"If you look at their squad, it's absolutely filled with Lions and world-class players," warned Scotland captain Kelly Brown when speaking of their opponent to the press this week.

"I would say it will be our toughest challenge in the championship so far but as a sportsman you want to be challenged by the top teams and there is no doubt Wales are one of those."

How Scotland beat Ireland continues to perplex and I don't think we will see a more one-sided half ultimately go in the other direction when a final whistle is blown. It was staggering to see Ireland claim 71 percent possession and 77 percent of the territory and still lose.

But, that is history, and Scotland approach their third and final home game of the Six Nations Championship full of confidence under Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan. The team selection sees two changes made as Geoff Cross - somewhat harshly - finds himself on the bench after what was an impressive effort against Ireland. His place goes to Euan Murray - who returns from missing their recent victory due to his religious beliefs - in a rugged pack.

For the Welsh, Justin Tipuric has been replaced by Sam Warburton in a move that hands the latter possibly his last opportunity to book a place on the Lions tour to Australia. He does not reclaim the captaincy, however, as Ryan Jones continues to excel in the responsibility, with his return coinciding with Wales' return to winning ways. Jones' experience has been key and it seems Rob Howley is buying into that as Alun-Wyn Jones also comes into the XV.

Howley's remaining change to the line-up that won well in Italy is Paul James coming into the loosehead spot for Gethin Jenkins, who has a calf injury. He fully deserves his start.

Much rests on whether Scotland can avoid another opening half that they were subjected to against Ireland as Wales will take the points on offer, thus building a lead the Irish could not. They've brought in Duncan Weir to help that process but I feel Wales should prevail.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: The coaches will hope that change at fly-half sparks their attack. In truth we have yet to see Tim Visser and Sean Maitland given sufficient ball to motor so that needs to be addressed. Duncan Weir is the man charged with getting things going.

For Wales: It is a massive opportunity for Sam Warburton to shine. A good performance without the captaincy responsibility should nail down his place for next week's clash with England and another strong game in Cardiff is likely to see Warren Gatland include him.

Head-to-head: Ryan Grant and Geoff Cross were strong for Scotland against Ireland, but this week Cross is joined by Euan Murray as the starting props. The duo go up against an in-form Adam Jones while Paul James gets a run due to Gethin Jenkins' absence. James has been superb for Bath this year and this battle up front is going to be interesting. Richard Hibbard and Ross Ford may well be scrapping for the third Lions hooking spot.

Recent results:

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
2006: Wales won 28-18 in Cardiff
2005: Wales won 46-22 in Edinburgh
2004: Wales won 23-10 in Cardiff
2003: Wales won 23-9 in Cardiff
2003: Scotland won 30-22 in Edinburgh

Prediction: Wales to sneak this one by 1-5 points!

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Sean Lamont, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Robert Harley, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Moray Low, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Alastair Kellock, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Max Evans.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Ryan Jones (capt), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Scott Andrews, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Andrew Coombs, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Scott Williams.

Date: Saturday, March 9
Kick-off: 14:30
Venue: Murrayfield
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)

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