6N: Wales & Scotland have redemption in mind at Murrayfield
When Wales runs out at Murrayfield on Sunday, it will be bubbling with resentment and desperation, intent on releasing a week of angst to put its Six Nations rugby campaign on track.
So will Scotland.
A backlash from Wales is expected. The title contender was shaken to its core when England impressively transformed after halftime in Cardiff last week and bludgeoned the home side into submission. On top of that embarrassment followed days of criticism of Welsh officials for their seeming lack of care for winger George North, who lost consciousness from a second head knock but was allowed to play to fulltime.
Scotland’s own boded backlash says a lot about its progress in less than a year. Used to fending off the wooden spoon, the Scots’ enterprise in the 15-8 loss to France in Paris has earned them added credibility, and wariness from the Welsh of the threat to their title ambitions.
If anything, the Scots should be even more riled up than Wales. They have lost their last seven matches to the visitors, all of them on Wales coach Warren Gatland’s watch.
Moreover, last year’s result was Scotland’s worst against them. Fullback Stuart Hogg was sent off and, undermanned for almost the last hour, Scotland was over-ran 51-3. Scotland will start only five survivors from that match (Wales has 10), but it left an impression on the others, too.
Jonny Gray, who will lock with brother Richie in a fifth test, watched that test on TV.
“I still felt the pain of that result,” he said. “Everyone feels it when you lose a game like that. Hopefully, we can get a result this weekend.”
Despite deserving of the plaudits that came their way after losing in Paris, where they did not concede a try for the first time since 1991, the Scots were neither unlucky nor close to winning. France dominated the second half in possession and territory, and forced the penalties and turnovers which won it the game.
Thanks to a backline that finally doesn’t waste the pack’s graft, welded to a growing self-belief, Scotland is a lot more dangerous than a year ago, and has the respect of Wales.
To a point.
The Welsh can’t fathom losing their first two tournament matches for the first time in eight years. Looking for a positive in the aftermath of the collapse to England, they immediately grasped on to the fact that as recently as 2013, they lost their home opener to Ireland, and still went on to win the title.
But the manner of the defeat was humbling. Proud of their fitness, they failed to score a point in the second half of a Six Nations match for the first time since 2007. They kicked too much, and didn’t grasp the need to change their game-plan.
Gatland has also resisted change by believing the same basic side can “get back on the horse.”
The pressure on Wales to deliver was immense before the England game, because it was at full strength, and at home. The burden has doubled at Murrayfield. Gatland has left out only North, who was not happy to be rested, and tighthead prop Samson Lee, who was also concussed. Up step Liam Williams and Aaron Jarvis.
“It will be a test for us with regards to how we bounce back, not only from the defeat, but the manner of the defeat,” Wales assistant coach Robin McBryde said. “That is when you find out about people, when they are put in a tight corner, and see how they react.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Lamont, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tim Visser, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Johnnie Beattie, Blair Cowan, Rob Harley, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Geoff Cross, Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson. Reserves: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Jon Welsh, Jim Hamilton, Alasdair Strokosch, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Greig Tonks, Matt Scott.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Jake Ball, Aaron Jarvis, Richard Hibbard, Gethin Jenkins. Reserves: Scott Baldwin, Paul James, Scott Andrews, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, Rhys Priestland, Scott Williams.