Scotland take aim at wounded Wales
February 11, 2010
James Hook will hope to spark Wales into action © Getty Images
The Millennium Stadium opens its gates for the first time in the 2010 Six Nations on Saturday as a wounded Wales welcome Andy Robinson's Scotland to Cardiff.
The Welsh slipped to an agonising defeat against perennial foes England in their opening fixture, paying the price for Alun-Wyn Jones' sin-binning and some muddled service from scrum-half Gareth Cooper, while it was more of the same from Scotland as they lost to France at Murrayfield, plenty of guts and heart but a debilitating lack of firepower.
The cockles have been warmed in the build up to the game by Wales coach Warren Gatland's first verbal hand grenade of the year, the former Waikato coach insisting that Scotland's request to keep the roof open pointed to a narrow gameplan. Robinson has responded in kind, insisting that he had played by the rules and that Gatland simply wanted to sneak a psychological advantage and utilise the full force of the Welsh crowd.
Nevertheless, the Scots now have sorry record of two tries in their last six Tests, or 480 minutes of rugby. Robinson is committed to unlocking the potential of their backline, but has little room for manoeuvre. In a similar position to Gatland, Robinson is limited to meddling with combinations rather than enforcing wholesale changes due to a player pool that more readily resembles a puddle following the axing of the Borders in 2007.
One constant for the side has been the brilliant Chris Paterson, who will deservedly win his 100th Test cap on Saturday. The Edinburgh fullback already holds the Scotland points record and appearances tally, and will now become the first Scotsman to break a century of caps.
Dan Parks returns to steer the ship at fly-half, with Phil Godman paying for an indecisive display in Edinburgh, while Sean Lamont has been drafted into midfield to bulk up their options. Lamont was Scotland's most potent attacker with ball in hand at Murrayfield but will have to contend with the elusive James Hook opposite him. The Ospreys utility lacks the grunt of Lamont, Graeme Morrison and Wales' incumbent No.12 Jamie Roberts but showed with his try at Twickenham that his combination of devil and guile can top brawn.
A big blow to Scotland's hopes occurred with the injury withdrawal of Nathan Hines, who would have been licking his lips at the prospect of getting stuck in to Wales' faltering lineout. The Leinster man offers a similar threat to England skipper Steve Borthwick at the set-piece and his work rate around the field will be sorely missed. Jim Hamilton is his replacement and will go up against a Wales pack showing a solitary change.
Jonathan Thomas is recalled to the second-row at the expense of the ineffective Luke Charteris, while Jones has been given a reprieve after speculation that he would pay for his Twickenham lapse with his place in the side. Gethin Jenkins has recovered from a calf problem to take a place on the bench, allowing Paul James the challenge of containing Euan Murray. The Scottish scrum was decimated by the French pack, shorn as they were of Murray due to his religious beliefs, and James, Gareth Williams and Adam Jones will not want to take a backwards step on home turf.
The second Welsh change is out wide, where Leigh Halfpenny replaces his Cardiff Blues team-mate Tom James. Halfpenny's prodigious boot from the kicking tee was sorely missed at Twickenham, where Hook failed with two shots from distance, while his footballing prowess was not matched by the ferociously fast but inexperienced James. Victory for Scotland could spark their season into life, with an always competitive home tie against England to come and an away trip to Italy looking inviting next up.
Wales meanwhile, have it all to do after losing their way in recent months. Victory is expected, but this is a Scotland side increased in confidence and stature since their last visit in 2008. They desperately need a performance to slow the fear that is slowly seeping back into the booming voices of the fans, who remember all too well the disastrous years that followed their 2005 Grand Slam.
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), G Cooper (Cardiff Blues); P James (Ospreys), G Williams (Cardiff Blues), A Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), A Powell (Cardiff Blues), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt)
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), R Rees (Cardiff Blues), A Bishop (Ospreys), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues)
Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); T Evans (Glasgow), S Lamont (Scarlets), G Morrison (Glasgow), R Lamont (Toulon); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Glasgow, capt); A Dickinson (Gloucester), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), A Kellock (Glasgow), K Brown (Glasgow), J Barclay (Glasgow), J Beattie (Glasgow).
Replacements: S Lawson (Gloucester), A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Gray (Glasgow), A MacDonald (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh), P Godman (Edinburgh), M Evans (Glasgow)
Referee: George Clancey (Ire)
Assistant Referees: Alain Rolland (Ire), Peter Fizgibbon (Ire)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (Eng)
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
"If I miss the first kick of the match, it shouldn't have any impact on the second. They are different entities." Tom Hamilton talks to Northampton Saints' Stephen Myler
It's time for those running Welsh rugby to stop trying to prevent its players heading to France and to start planning a future without them, writes Martin Williamson
Paul Eddison explains how the French sold English clubs down the river and why their domestic game will go from strength to strength
'Nothing can prepare you for the noise of the Millennium Stadium though, you just can't hear anything." Tom Hamilton talks to Cory Allen