Desperate Wales set for Murrayfield mission
February 10, 2011
James Hook has been handed the fly-half jersey for Wales © Getty Images
Scotland throw open the doors of Murrayfield for the first time in 2011 this weekend and welcome a Wales side desperate to end a demoralising winless streak.
As performances in defeat go, Scotland's effort in their Six Nations opener against France last weekend was uplifting and their tally of three tries will have been a further boost after several barren seasons on that front.
The 34-21 defeat at the Stade de France saw Scotland showcase fire in defence and a greater fluency in attack, two factors that spell danger for Wales, whose 26-19 loss to England sent them further along the spiral into mediocrity.
Time is running out for Warren Gatland to turn things around before the Rugby World Cup, with his long-term contract now in focus for all the wrong reasons. The same cannot be said for his opposite number, Andy Robinson, who this week agreed a deal through to 2015 with the Scottish Rugby Union.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Joe Ansbro has been a major plus for Scotland since his debut against South Africa in November. Last weekend the London Irish-bound centre again showed his pace and guile with ball in hand, setting up Sean Lamont's try, and if he goes looking for work again at Murrayfield then Wales could be placed under pressure.
Scotland - Team News: Robinson has kept faith in the side that turned in a tough shift in Paris last weekend, with only one change to the matchday 22. That comes on the replacements' bench, where Gloucester's Scott Lawson is recalled in place of the injured Dougie Hall.
Wales - Player to Watch: James Hook has been handed the fly-half jersey and anointed as Wales' saviour-in-chief and it's a huge challenge for the Perpignan-bound playmaker. Whether he gets the time and space to influence proceedings remains to be seen and this one could go either way for a player desperate to prove that he has what it takes to wear a red No.10 shirt.
Wales - Team News: Hook's switch means a place on the bench for Stephen Jones, who has been carrying a knock in training this week. Lee Byrne takes over at fullback while there is a recall for former skipper Ryan Jones at No.8 following a shoulder injury to Wasps' Andy Powell.
Key Battle: All the focus has been on Wales' fly-half but Scotland's Dan Parks is set to have a major say in the outcome of the game. Scotland will want to be structured and put Wales under pressure, where Parks' strong kicking game will come in handy, but the Cardiff pivot's tackling is likely to come under scrutiny from club team-mate Jamie Roberts and Scarlets midfielder Jonathan Davies.
Trivia: Willie Llewellyn played his last Test for Wales in their win over the All Blacks in 1905 - his jointly-held record for most tries against the Scots (seven) will be broken if Shane Williams crosses the whitewash in the fixture for the fourth successive season.
Stats: James Hook will win his 49th cap on Saturday, to date he has started only 13 Tests at fly-half with 17 in the centre, seven at fullback and 11 as a replacement.
"We were disappointed as players and management that we did not start the championship with a win against France. We are determined to put that right with an improved performance against Wales."
"There is a certain amount of risk involved as he has not started a game at fly-half this season, but the decision was made easier considering Stephen has been limited in what he can do in the early part of this week after the bump he picked up early on against England."
The Odds: Fancy Shane to make it four in a row? Bet365 are offering odds of 9/1 for the winger to score first this weekend.
Fantasy: Scotland rediscovered their scoring touch last weekend through their forwards - Al Kellock and Kelly Brown did the business in ESPNscrum International Fantasy Rugby 2011.
Prediction: Scotland will be buoyant after a gutsy display in Paris and will be too organised and powerful on their own patch for a Wales side as lacking in ideas as they are confidence.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.