Autumn Tests: All you need to know about Wales v Scotland

Gregor Townsend's team are back at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff this afternoon and desperate to lay the demon of February's crushing defeat to the same opposition at the same venue to rest

Jonny Gray
Jonny Gray and his Scotland team-mates will be looking for a better performance and result when they take on Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff this afternoon than they managed on their last visit nine months ago ***Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk***

WALES v SCOTLAND, PRINCIPALITY STADIUM IN CARDIFF, SATURDAY 3rd NOVEMBER 2018.

Kick-off 2.45pm. Watch live on BBC One, S4C, online and the BBC Sport app. Listen on BBC Radio Wales & Radio Cymru; text updates on the BBC Sport website.

WalesLeigh Halfpenny; George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Luke Morgan; Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Nicky Smith, Ken Owens, Dillon Lewis, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones©, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty. Substitutes: Elliot Dee, Rob Evans, Leon Brown, Bradley Davies, Aaron Wainwright, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans , Steff Evans.

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones; Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Allan Dell, Stuart McInally©, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson. Substitutes: Fraser Brown, Alex Allan, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Peter Horne, Darcy Graham.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)


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THE build-up to this match has not been without controversy. Adding a fourth November Test to the Scottish rugby schedule for the first time initially raised concerns about player welfare, and the impact on the integrity of the game at both international and PRO14 level.

But that relatively mild displeasure metamorphosed during the course of last weekend into an almighty uproar when it emerged that neither the Scottish Rugby Union nor the Welsh Rugby Union were going to be donating directly to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation – the charity in whose name this game is being played – despite the fact that the two governing body’s are believed to be sharing a windfall in the region of £3 million from the match, with the former Scotland star, who is fighting a brave battle against Motor Neurone Disease, a central feature in their marketing campaign.

After a couple of days of procrastination, the Unions announced on Monday night that they will donate a ‘six-figure sum’ to the charity, and the focus was able to return to what is going to happen on the pitch.

The painful memory of that humbling 34-7 defeat to Wales at the same venue nine months ago to the day hangs heavy over the heads of the Scotland team, and they have not tried to shy away from the hugely damaging impact of that match on the team’s morale and reputation this week. This game might not have the bite of a Six Nations match, but Scotland have a hell of a lot to prove.

Injury has deprived the visitors of a number of key players, including Stuart Hogg, John Barclay and Zander Fagerson; while the non-release of exiles such as Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell and Byron McGuigan means that this is going to be a real test of their strength in depth. Looking back at summer tour defeats to Fiji and the USA during Gregor Townsend’s time in charge suggests that they are still not at the stage where they can tinker with personnel without seeing a significant drop-off in performance. It is something they must address as a matter of urgency with the World Cup looming over the horizon in less the ten months’ time, and this will be a useful gauge of just how far down the road they are.

Wales are also missing a few players, most notably the highly experienced exile duo of Liam Williams and Dan Biggar (plus the likes of Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi to injury) but they have more of their leading players based in Wales, and with four pro sides (as opposed to two in Scotland) they have a far wider and deeper player pool to choose from, evidenced by the fact that there are ten British and Irish Lions in the home squad.

 

WHAT THEY SAID –

Wales coach Warren Gatland on Scotland stand-off Adam Hastings –

“He has had some international experience but there will be some pressure on him to play in Cardiff. We have got to make sure we put as much pressure on him as we possibly can.

“If a player is playing up at the next level of physicality and intensity that is what we need to bring to make it difficult for him.

“No doubt he is a quality player with a pretty good pedigree. I am sure he has had plenty of advice about handling the pressure.”

Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor on whether Hastings is going to be the only stand-off in the match under pressure –

“With any player coming up and developing there are stages, and playing in Wales will be good for his [Hastings’] development. Everything the game will bring – the crowd, the opposition – will be a step up from what he’s played before. It’s a good thing for him. 

“In that position you have to command the people around you. He’s certainly not shy in letting people know what he wants and what he demands. I think that’s a good trait to have. He’s built for Test match rugby because he has that mind-set that he’s not going to take a backward step. Test match rugby is all about having a good mind-set, a dominant mind-set, and he brings that.

“Every team in world rugby tries to get their big carriers in and about the 10 channel. He certainly can tackle, he’s not shy there. That’s important, and I’m sure Gareth Anscombe will be getting the same thing from us. It’s a big day for him as well because he doesn’t often play there [for Cardiff Blues] so there will be a lot of pressure on him I’m sure.

Wales playmaker Gareth Anscombe on playing most of his club rugby with Cardiff Blues at full-back and then having to shift forward to stand-off when he pulls on the red jersey –

“It is frustrating. From a selfish point of view, I need a little bit more consistency of where I am going to play. At international level, I’ll do whatever is asked of me, but there are times when I would like a little bit more consistency in where I play.

“Fifteen and ten are very similar but they are also very different, I find it tough at times to get your working week right because they are both important positions and they both vary with the skill-set at times, so it would be nice to focus on just one position at times.”

Scotland captain Stuart McInally on the ‘Doddie-factor’ –

“It’s hard to put into words what Doddie means to everyone. He’s going through such a tough time, yet his sole focus is on trying to raise awareness and trying to raise funds, so that other people don’t have to go through what he’s going through. Everyone in Scotland is aware of him and what he’s doing.

“It would be massive to do it [lift the Doddie Weir Cup, which has been donated by the WRU for this and all future matches between the two sides]. It’s something we’ve spoken about … making sure we make him proud and make the country proud.

“Every time we pull on that jersey, we do our best – that goes without saying – but having something else to play for makes it even more special.The fact that he is here and the fact that he was at our team run just builds the excitement.I’ve not spoken to him yet. But I will, definitely.

“For us, first and foremost, it’s another Test match. It’s another chance to play for Scotland and try to win for Scotland, prove ourselves again.”

Birlinn Books

THREE KEY CLASHES 

Dillon Lewis versus Allan Dell

After an injury-ravaged season since returning from his late call-up to the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand (during which time he considered walking away from the game), Scotland loose-head Dell has now put the back and groin injuries which sidelined him for the best part of 12 months behind him, and after three appearances off the bench and four starts for Edinburgh, he is straight into the Scotland team  – which says as much about the options at loose-head as it does about the player’s prowess.

Dell admitted earlier this week that he is still some way short of his explosive best around the park, but explained that his renewed focus on set-piece should allay fears about the fragility of the Scottish scrum. He is not the biggest loose-head in the world, and 22-year-old Lewis will fancy a pop when the two sets of forwards pack down, having got another chance to impress Gatland (as he did on Scotland’s summer tour) thanks to Samson Lee’s hamstring and back injuries.

The always mischievous Gatland has also suggested that Lewis will be motivated by the identity of Scotland’s new forwards coach.

“I think he has a point to prove against someone like Danny Wilson who unfortunately did not rate Dillon that highly [at Cardiff Blues],” he said. “So there is a bit motivation in Dillon wanting to go out there and do well.”

Gareth Davies v Ali Price

All Scottish rugby fans are scarred by what happened six minutes into the last meeting between these two teams, when Scotland scrum-half Price threw a reckless pass from the base of a ruck on the Welsh ten yard line, and was intercepted by opposite number Davies, who sprinted home from over 55-yards.

That was the beginning of the end of Scotland’s hopes of getting their Six Nations campaign off to a flyer after a highly promising November Test series. Price was by no means the only culpable member of Gregor Townsend’s side for the debacle which unfolded, but he along with his great pal and half-back partner Finn Russell bore the brunt of the public backlash.

Price was replaced by Greig Laidlaw for Scotland’s next match, a home victory over France, and remained on the periphery for the remainder of the Championship. To compound matters, Price threw an almost identical pass in his first game back with  Glasgow Warriors against the Scarlets, with none other than Davies once again profiting from his looseness.

Price’s career trajectory had been on a heady ascent since his international debut against Georgia in November 2016, but it nose-dived dramatically after that double whammy. He dropped out the Warriors match-day squad for the season run-in, with both the player and his club coach Dave Rennie admitting at the start of the current campaign that he had allowed his fitness levels to drop and consequently lost the zip which had hitherto made him such a dangerous performer.

“When everything is happening for the first time, it is very easy. I almost thought I had cracked it,” recalled Price last month. “Every game was just going to be a breeze – you come off, you have scored a try and done this and that and everyone thinks you are great – [but] in reality, you are really only as good as your last game. Rugby has a funny way of bringing you back down to earth when you think you have made it.

“I have learned a lot from that. I am never going to be a perfect rugby player, I am never going to be that guy, but if I can put in consistent performances and every now and again put in decent performances then you can’t go too far wrong.”

After flying home early from Scotland’s summer tour with a groin injury, Price worked hard to get himself into tip-top shape for the start of this season, and has since pushed his way back ahead of George Horne in the pecking order for both club and country.

Price, more than any other player in blue, will feel that he has a demon to banish this afternoon

Leigh Halfpenny v Blair Kinghorn

There is no escaping the fact that the loss of Stuart Hogg to an ankle injury is a blow, but in the medium to long term it will prove to be a blessing in disguise for Scotland if it means Blair Kinghorn can really get up to pace as an international full-back. There is no doubting the rangy 21-year-old’s potential, especially with the ball in hand, but concerns have been expressed that he is not always quite so commanding when the opposition have possession.

Four of his five international appearances since debuting off the bench against England in the Six Nations have been on the wing, with his one run at full-back being against Canada during the summer. This will be a far sterner test of his suitability as an international back-stop.

He is up against a veteran who was being written off as yesterday’s man with nothing to offer other than goal-kicking excellence before that Six Nations clash in February, and who showed his class in that match with two tries in a commanding performance. Two very different players, at very different stages in their careers, who both still have an awful lot to prove.


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SCOTLAND’S RECORD AGAINST WALES  

Played 123 – Won 49 – Drawn 3 – Lost 71

Best results

2 February 1924: Scotland 24 Australia 15

Biggest defeat

13 June 2014: Wales 51 Scotland 3

Six most recent matches

9 March 2013: Scotland 18 Wales 28

15 March 2014: Wales 51 Scotland 3

15 February 2015: Scotland 23 Wales 26

13 February 2016: Wales 23 Scotland 27

25 February 2017: Scotland 29 Wales 13

3 February 2018: Wales 34 Scotland 7

Dakota

LAST TIME OUT 

This is, essentially, a Scottish rugby website, so we’ll keep this brief.

Scotland pitched up in Cardiff nine months ago to the day with high hopes of picking up a first win at the Principality Stadium since 2002 after an encouraging Autumn Test schedule which had featured a fairly stodgy victory over Samoa, a heroic defeat at the hands of New Zealand and a 53-24 gubbing of Australia.

But it all fell apart after Gareth Davies’ interception try [see above] in the sixth minute. Thereafter, the  Scots appeared shell-shocked, and were lucky to be only 34-0 down before Pete Horne scuttled over inside the final five minutes for a scarcely deserved consolation score.

“It was an afternoon I was expecting,” stated a justifiably smug Gatland afterwards. “With the way we have trained in the last couple of weeks there was definitely a quiet confidence in the squad. The guys have been outstanding in their preparation and we did go into the game expecting to win, and to win reasonably comfortably,” 

“I said that to the chief executive yesterday at training. He said: ‘How do you think you’ll go?’ And I said: ‘I think we’ll win by 20.’ He looked a bit shocked, but that was how well we’d trained. In fairness to the guys, they’ve been excellent in the last two weeks,” the Welsh coach added.

Gregor Townsend looked lost afterwards.

“Something got to us and we played nothing like we can play,” he said. “We weren’t focused or accurate enough and our defensive shape wasn’t what we’d like. Whether that was the nature of the game or a lack of focus, I don’t know.”


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About David Barnes 3182 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.