Celtic rivals out to maintain title hopes
March 8, 2013
Will Wales' Leigh Halfpenny be able to maintain his run of outstanding form against the Scots at Murrayfield? © PA Photos
Scotland play host to Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday with both sides hoping to preserve their Six Nations title hopes.
Head to Head
England may currently lead the chase for the northern hemisphere crown and an elusive Grand Slam but both these sides can still pip them to the glory if results go their way - starting with their latest showdown. Hosts Scotland have defied the doomsayers by bouncing back from an opening defeat to England to notch victories over Italy and then Ireland. Wales also stumbled at the first hurdle against Ireland but got their campaign back on track with wins against France and then Italy.
As a result, the stage is set for another thrilling encounter but the weight of history appears to be against Scotland with Wales having won their last five meetings - most notably a breath-taking affair in Cardiff in 2010 that was settled by a last-minute score by Welsh wing wizard Shane Williams.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Fullback Stuart Hogg may have attempted to play down his Lions hopes but another eye-catching display will surely cement his place on the plane.
Scotland - Team News: Fly-half Duncan Weir is handed his first Scotland start and replaces club-mate Ruaridh Jackson. They have also opted to reinstate Euan Murray at tight-head while back-row Ryan Wilson could make his debut from the bench having been drafted onto the bench in the place of the injured David Denton.
Wales - Player to Watch: Sam Warburton began the Six Nations with the Wales captaincy and high hopes of touring with the British & Irish Lions but has since been stripped of both. Can he rescue his campaign with a strong showing?
Wales - Team News: Warburton returns to the side at openside in one of three changes from the team that beat Italy but Ryan Jones retains the captaincy. Lock Alun-Wyn Jones is also handed a recall at the expense of Andrew Coombs. In the front-row, Paul James starts in place of Gethin Jenkins who has failed to recover from a calf injury he sustained against the Azzurri.
Key Battle: The showdown between rival fullbacks Stuart Hogg and Leigh Halfpenny may be worth the price of admission alone. Both have been in outstanding form but only one can wear the No.15 shirt for the British & Irish Lions later this year.
Trivia: If Scotland beat Wales on Saturday it will be the first time since 2006 that they have won three matches in a Six Nations campaign. That season, Scotland beat France, England and Italy to finish third in the competition. The last time Scotland won three consecutive matches in the Championship was in 1996 when they beat Ireland, France and Wales, before going down to England in the final game.
Stats: If Wales beat Scotland this weekend it will be their fifth successive away victory in the Championship, the most they've ever achieved. Wales have managed to win four consecutive away matches on two occasions in the Championship, between 1952-1953 and 1977-1979.
Betting: Fancy Scotland's Stuart Hogg to maintain his free-scoring ways? Bet365 are offering 12/1 for the fullback to grab the first or last try. Or maybe you think Wales will burst Scotland's bubble? If so, a Wales win by 11-15 points at 13/2 may appeal.
"The reality of the situation is that we did some good things against Italy, and conversely we did some really good things against Ireland which are at the end of each other's spectrum. The trick is trying to find a combination of the two to compete. We'll need to do that."
"We are really fortunate to have two world-class sevens, with world-class attributes. We are the envy of a lot of the home unions to have the two sevens we have. I think we've got the best two sevens in the championship."
Prediction: Wales appear to have steadied the ship and are unlikely to be as wasteful as Ireland were - but they are unlikely to get everything their own way. The visitors will have to work hard for a victory that keeps their title hopes alive and end those of their rivals.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Red cards, Samu Manoa, free-flowing Bath, improving Falcons and long-term gains - it's the Monday Maul
Greg Growden stares into his crystal ball to see what rugby 2015 has in store for us. Tongue in cheek? Maybe. Maybe not. We think much may come to pass
From Burgess to Boudjellal, Haskell to Honey Badgers and retirees to Retallick, here's the Quotes of 2014
It was another bumper year of rugby action in 2014; join us as we take a look back at some of the season's top statistics