Scotland v Wales: one change to home side as Gatland revamps pack

Zander Fagerson returns to front-row after two-month absence

Zander Fagerson is back in the Scotland team to face Wales. Image: © Craig Watson -
Zander Fagerson is back in the Scotland team to face Wales. Image: © Craig Watson -

GREGOR TOWNSEND has made just one change to his Scotland 15 to play Wales on Saturday, bringing back Zander Fagerson to start at tighthead. WP Nel, who started last week’s win against England, drops to the bench, while Simon Berghan is left out of the 23. The minimal alteration is in stark contrast to Wales, who have made five changes, all up front, from their side that lost to Ireland.

Apart from Nel’s demotion and Berghan’s omission, there are no changes to the Scotland bench. That means there is no place in the 23 for Hamish Watson, who has played just once for Edinburgh since recovering from concussion suffered in November.

Fagerson has not played at all since injuring a hamstring against Zebre at the start of December, but has been back in full training for more than a fortnight. “When we saw how well he trained last week, we did think ‘Could we involve him at Twickenham?’,” Townsend said. “But we wanted to back WP and Simon Berghan, who both played really well. After another full week’s training with us, we believe that Zander is more than ready to perform.”

Asked if it was an easy decision to keep faith with the other 14, the head coach continued: “No, it wasn’t. We actually delayed the [internal] team announcement because we had a few selections that we wanted to sleep on.

“I believe they have earned the right to get a second opportunity and build on that win, but the performance wasn’t at our best level. We’ve got players on the bench and outwith the 23 who are quality players, have played very well for us in the past or are itching for that opportunity.

“So it wasn’t an easy decision, but these guys now have the opportuntiy to build on what happened last week.”

The alterations to the Welsh pack begin in the front-row, where Wyn Jones and Dillon Lewis start at loosehead and tighthead respectively. Daffyd Jenkins makes his first start at lock, replacing Alun Wyn Jones. In the back-row, Christ Tshiunza is at blindside and Tommy Reffell is at openside.

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“We’ve made some changes but tried to keep some continuity with the same backline,” Wales head coach Warren Gatland said. “Wyn has been working really hard in the last three weeks in camp and he gets an opportunity. Then Dafydd Jenkins comes into the second row, looking a bit to the future. Christ Tshiunza as well. We’re looking at options at eight if Toby Faletau picks up an injury who’s going to cover there, so Jac gets that chance.

“Scotland have some experience in that squad, so it’s going to be a great encounter and it’s a good test of the improvements that we can make from the things that we need to tidy up from last week.”


Scotland (v Wales at BT Murrayfield, Saturday 4.45pm): Stuart Hogg; Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie (captain), Luke Crosbie, Matt Fagerson. Substitutes: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, WP Nel, Jonny Gray, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Blair Kinghorn, Chris Harris.

Wales: Liam Williams; Josh Adams, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer; Dan Biggar,  Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Adam Beard, Christ Tshiunza, Tommy Reffell, Jac Morgan. Substitutes: Scott Baldwin, Rhys Carre, Leon Brown, Rhys Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Webb, Rhys Patchell, Alex Cuthbert.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. In the autumn I thought there was a good team in the Scotland squad waiting to be found. Perhaps Townsend has found it and maybe things will start to align a bit for us now. We certainly have the players and the game play to beat wales. I think they’ll turn it round. the past couple of years have seen a lot of Not since 19 whatever being dumped. So this is just another one of those. If we lose then no we’re not the worlds worst team either.

  2. Scotland are easily going to crush a poor Welsh side by 25 points. The Clown wont be smiling after tomorrows match.

  3. We have to back up a performance at some stage and it’s only been 27 years since we last did it!

    Comfortable W tomorrow. Let’s do it!

  4. Big big challenge tomorrow, even if that battle is in our own “heads” and in many ways a lot harder than last weekend.

    Win that mental battle with ourselves and we will win, but expect a tight nervy game as we rarely do it any other way!

    • Totally agree – this is all in our heads. Steely determination, take every three points on offer and play in their half …..

      More nervous re this game than I think ever before, so much is possible if we can win this one well.

      • Naah don’t be nervous.

        Yeah we know Wales are a tough team who’ll scrap and have more talent than recent results suggest but just get in about them.

  5. I share the anxiety around beating Wales – we’ve lost too many games when we’ve been the better side by being dragged into dog fights. I do wonder though if the changing of the guard in the welsh pack might play in our favour – lots of talent coming into the welsh side but not the accumulated experience of bending test matches to their will, or indeed playing away in hostile environments. Young talent into a settled squad is one thing, into a struggling team another thing altogether.

    Either way I think it’ll be settled by a score either way.

  6. There was a comment somewhere about Edinburgh and Glasgow having no fear of Welsh teams and regards beating them. Now… completely different scenario for Scotland. In reality Scotland should be beating Wales by 2 scores on Saturday given form home advantage and simply having better players.

  7. Scotland are strong favourites. We don’t usually do favourites well.
    Wales underdogs, suits them. Pressure is all on us

    A more inexperienced Welsh side, but then Tiperic, AWJ and Falatau ranged from anonymous to really poor last week. This team can only be better, and the newbies have nothing to lose and everything to gain, like a trip to the RWC

    Scotland should win, we have enough to win and are playing with confidence. But this has banana skin written all over it. Spelled Brace LOL

    • We’ve been underdogs enough and that hasn’t suited us either. In fact, it’s been thoroughly justified.

      Intae thum!

  8. Gatland has the Indian sign over us, He has the knack of getting his team in the right place mentally for this fixture and with Josh Adams, George North and Liam Williams breakaway tries to break the spirit of the Scot’s are always possible so I.wouldn’t be surprised to see a Wales win. that said GT has now worked behind the scenes with the man so hopefully can advise our players the mind games to expect. Controlled aggression and maintaining focus , discipline and energy for the full 80 minutes is what will be required. I would imaging we can expect the full gamut of tricks at scrum time , Williams and Biggar trying to milk a penalty/card out of a nothing incident and their players generally trying to get a rise out of Russel and Fagerson.
    If we win this , we may have turned a corner and the triple crown becomes a possibility.

  9. Lots of comments already disregarding Wales…..when will some on here learn?

    Tight game ahead, and I pray we come out winners.

  10. I agree that WP probably needs resting and handling carefully to avoid burnout. However, even if Zander does manage to avoid a red card, genuine or engineered by Welsh acting, he is usually good for giving away at least three kickable penalties. Let’s hope his discipline has improved.

  11. It looks as though Townsend has mastered the head coach job. Good attacking selection and a playing strategy that balances his fastest rugby in the world with the all out defence/kicking that we took into the world cup. The squad look fit, which they certainly didn’t in 2019 despite the claims made and he seems to be engaging Finn. It’s taken a while but I’m feeling worryingly optimistic.

  12. Back in 2015 we faced the Springboks in the World Cup in Newcastle during which Hoggy dramatically fell to the ground following what he considered a late tackle. Nigel Owens who was refereeing severely rebuked Hoggy telling him not to do it again and suggested that if he wished to play that way he return to St.James Park when football returned.
    I hope Saturday’s ref saw Liam Williams( who was yellow carded for a high tackle on Jonathan Sexton) pathetic “dive” last Saturday against Ireland and issues a similar warning, or more, if Williams does the same on Saturday. We don’t need these football histrionics introduced to rugby.

  13. A spot on selection by Townsend again.
    WP ran himself into the ground at Twickenham last wknd but given his age and the undoubted bruises he will have from last wknd it is ideal Zander slots back in at tighthead. Zander offers more in the loose also, WP can come on around the hour mark to see us over the line (hopefully). Just one final point on Zander, he arguably cost us the match 2 years ago with a rush of blood to the head and subsequent red card- hoping this will really spur him on to put things right this wknd against Wales!

    In terms of Gatland’s selection I am personally delighted to see as many of the old guard put out to pasture as possible, let’s face it they have had a complete mental edge over the Scottish players for the last 10-15 years and their pack is relatively inexperienced for Saturday’s crunch game. Scotland are the form team and are playing at home with the wind in their sails, we simply MUST deliver. It has to be now.

  14. Good to see Gregor sticking more or less with the same team. Zander was scheduled to return so that’s not really a surprise. Other than that agree with everyone else this a must win game, and I like beating the Welsh as much as the English now adays.

  15. No surprises then with the Scotland selection. Im surprised with Wales dropping Tipuric in particular and so don’t know what to make of their pack. They will have a bit of a nothing to lose attitude and so we must be really focussed and maintain the good discipline from last week. If we start giving away cheap penalties and allow Bigger to kick some early points Wales can still be dangerous. We should win with something to spare however if we can get a good start.

  16. Winning 3 out of 5 would be an achievement but I fancy us to win the Triple Crown given a relatively injury free tournament to key players.

    • More likely to beat Ireland than Italy??!! Can’t see that even if I was refereeing the Ireland game being honest.

      • Meant winning 3 would be an achievement but fancy us winning the triple crown and that would be 4 wins.

  17. I’m pleased Wales were soundly beaten by Ireland. Better they come here under pressure to perform than with the momentum a win or even close defeat might have given them. We know what Wales can be like when they get on a run of wins.

    I’m also glad they have basically replaced their pack. We can’t now get ‘a reaction’ from those that didn’t perform last week. Gatland is effectively starting again and his risk is that it might be even worse than last week.

    But, being a hail mary option, it might just work them, unlikely as it seems. I suspect it will have to be one of those days when everything goes for them and nothing breaks for us. If so, so be it, as long as we take care of what we CAN control to the best of our ability.

    I’m still a little concerned we don’t have adequate cover for Finn on the bench; I would have had Healy instead of Harris in the 23. Other than that, I’m not sure there is much more to be said.

  18. A largely unchanged, cohesive Scottish team facing a few with less experience in a Welsh team looking to build a World Cup squad sounds good on paper. I really don’t know what Wales will offer, but the Scottish outfit appear focussed and businesslike in a way we’re perhaps not accustomed to.

    I assume Watson will get a game against the Scarlets on the 18th and might be considered for the 6 Nations fixtures after that.

  19. We’ve been screaming for the picking of “in form” players and consistency on here from Toony…and he has now delivered on both counts.

    We must win this match, and at least one other, if we are to be taken seriously and create momentum into the RWC.

    • Our chances in the RWC will be much clearer after the six nations, I keep on wondering of the two ranked teams above us which game gives us the better edge Ireland at home or France away hopefully on a bad day, strangely I think there is a better chance of France on a bad day even in Paris. However one game at a time you are on the money with the Wales match as a must win, fingers crossed.

    • Sorry but we need to win 4 games to be taken “ seriously”. If we beat Wales, Italy has to be a given irrespective of their recent performances .That leaves France and Ireland . Who wouldn’t love to beat the Irish but I suspect we have more chance against the French.In the meantime let’s concentrate on getting 2 wins on the trot.

      • you’ve seen Italy’s recent performances?

        Lost narrowly to France
        Beat Australia at home in Nov (we didn’t manage that)
        Absolutely thrashed Samoa
        Won in Cardiff

        There are no gimmees

        As you say though, win this one, then worry about the rest

      • Who invented the four games limit to be taken seriously? Is that a World Rugby law now?

        Getting carried away with yourself. We can barely string two performances together. Just because we beat England again at home doesn’t mean Wales is a gimme. They are a wounded side and we have a habit of taking our foot off the gas after a good win.

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