Six Nations team-by-team guide part 3: Wales and Scotland

Cardiff clash on opening weekend will be campaign defining

Scotland clash with Wales in Cardiff in the late afternoon game on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scotland clash with Wales in Cardiff in the late afternoon game on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

IN the final instalment of our Six Nations guide to each of the competing squads, Iain Morrison reads the runes for a Wales outfit decimated by retirements and injury, and assesses a Scotland side who must prove that their World Cup no-show is not the beginning of the end for this generation of players.

WALES

    • Coach: Gats….for his 17th Six Nations campaign!
    • Captain: In the absence of Jac Morgan, the 21-year-old lock Dafydd Jenkins takes the armband. Wales’ second youngest skipper after Gareth Edwards. Llongyfarchiadau mawr!
    • Welcome to the circus: Gatland’s squad has five uncapped players including the breakaway trio of Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin and Evan Lloyd. Full-back Cameron Winnett from Cardiff and Bath prop Archie Griffin are also named. A further 11 squad players have less than 10 caps to their name.
    • Missing the action: Are you sitting comfortably? Jac Morgan, Dewi Lake, Chris Tshiunza, Taulupe Faletau and Callum Sheedy are injured. Dan Bigger, Justin Tipuric, AWJ and Leigh Halfpenny have retired. Thomas Francis, Liam Williams and Gareth Anscombe moved abroad (Anscombe subsequently returned from Japan and is said to be training with Wales despite having no contract/club). Meanwhile Louis Rees-Zamit is chasing the dream/loot/limelight – delete as you see fit – across the pond. Centre Joe Hawkins plays for Exeter so has rendered himself ineligible. And finally, for reasons only he knows, Cardiff-born winger Immanuel Weyi-Waboso opted to join an improving England squad over a shambolic Welsh one, the rascal!
    • Reasons to be cheerful: “We can absolutely win this tournament,” said Warren Gatland, although he may have been trying to persuade himself as much as anyone else? I am an honorary member of a Welsh WhatsApp group who are already bracing themselves for the Wooden Spoon so at least this squad is not burdened with excess expectations. Moreover, Wales boast a very handy combo in the row (Jenkins plus Will Rowlands of Racing) and young guns like Mackenzie Martin and Kieron Williams could yet surprise us if given a chance. Ryan Elias is considered by many to be a better hooker than Dewi Lake and, finally, having Scotland first up at home does nothing to disturb the Welsh players’ sleep given the Scots’ appalling record in Cardiff.
    • Don’t mention: The recent results. Wales did well to best Fiji at RWC but they have finished fifth in three of the last four Championship seasons so it will be Gatland’s finest hour if they end up higher than that given the scratch squad he has at his disposal. In addition, the once-mighty Scarlets (along with Perpignan) were one of the only teams to finish with nil points in the pool stages of European competition, while the Ospreys are the only Welsh region in the top half of the URC.
    • Making his mark: If anyone can whip this ragtag mob into some semblance of order you suspect that Warren Gatland is that man but it’s still a mountain to climb. He will earn his pay this season and some, while Jenkins faces a baptism of fire as captain.
    • Recent record: 5th in 2020, 1st, 5th and 5th.
    • Best guess? Wales are in some disarray, bereft of several experienced players while the next generation are still bedding in. About 14 years back, when Dan Parks was playing, I speculated that Wales’ 10th choice fly-half would get a start for Scotland. Now their first choice 10 would struggle to get a place on the bench for either of Scotland’s pro-teams. Sam Costelow may surprise us but little that he has done to date suggests that he is a Test fly-half in the making. I suspect Wales will need to beat Italy in the final round to avoid the ‘Spoon’.

 

SCOTLAND

    • Coach: Gregor Townsend…now in his 8th season
    • Captains: Finn Russell and Rory Darge (who is struggling to make the opening game)
    • Welcome to the circus: Three of the four new faces are, surprise, surprise, from outside Scotland (only 18 out of 39 players in the squad came through Scottish rugby … just saying!). So Saints’ Elliot Millar-Mills and Exeter’s former England prop Alex Hepburn are there to help shore up the Scottish scrum. Sale’s Arron Reed has pace to burn as does the promising Harry Patterson from Edinburgh! (Huzzah!)
    • Missing in action: Things don’t look too good for Jamie Richie right now and he must wonder what the heck has changed in the four months since RWC’23; unless Townsend has belatedly realised that his number 6 is really a 7? Bucking the trend, not one Scot has retired post World Cup, although you suspect several might like to. Grant Gilchrist is suspended and Darcy Graham injured for Cardiff, while Lions trio, Hamish Watson, Chris Harris and Rory Sutherland were all stamped ‘surplus stock’.
    • Reasons to be cheerful: Scotland are competitive against most teams most of the time. This was not always the case, for younger readers out there. They have a backline that can challenge the best defenses with the little-n-large wing combo offering a contrasting but potent threat in the wide channels. With the wind in their sails, Scotland are a joy to watch and, while he isn’t currently in the national squad, Glasgow’s Max Williamson looks the part if/when big Richie ever quits.
    • Don’t mention: Ireland. With a record that reads, played 11, lost 10, won 1, if Townsend never had to face the Irish again it would come too soon. They contributed to Scotland’s demise in RWC’19 and, again, in RWC’23. I lost a fiver that day. Not because I thought Scotland would win but because I thought, with backs to the wall, they would take the fight to Ireland, at least make a game of it. I was wrong. It was over by half time. The two sides meet in Dublin on the final weekend of the championship and Scotland will lose again unless they beef up their forward pack with equal injections of muscle and mischief.
    • Making his mark: Some big lummock to fill the number six shirt and bring some much needed ballast/balance to the backrow. Please. My choice would be Luke Crosbie but Townsend cannot continue with two (or even three) openside flankers in the back row and expect to compete with the power packs out there.
    • Recent results: 4th in 2020, 4th, 4th and 3rd!
    • Our best guess: Much is resting on the crucial opening weekend when Scotland not only have to win in Cardiff for the first time in 22 years, they must do so with something to spare. At full strength, this Wales’ squad would be a little bit ordinary during this rebuilding phase, but in addition they are missing several key players including their twin RWC skippers. A good win in Wales sets Scotland up nicely for the challenge posed by France and England at home. A scratchy win or, heaven forbid, a loss in Cardiff and we could be looking to Rome in the fourth round for some sort of salvation.

Six Nations team-by-team guide part 2: Italy and England

About Iain Morrison 133 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.

21 Comments

  1. Cant help but feel if it is ever gonna be for Scotland it has to be in the 2024-2026 period. Mid World Cup cycle, teams maybe working towards 2027 etc. If we dont do anything in these years I fear we might never do anything. The age grade setup looks so incredibly grim right now, it is a barren landscape with very very little coming through. I think we need to prepare ourselves for where the Scotland team might find itself in 2030 onwards….sadly. I hope I live to eat every single one of those words, but we need to see some real development happen soon at youth level or we are in big trouble.

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  2. Carefull,
    Gatland is like a good chef, as we saw in the past he can do an excellent dish with very few ingredients.
    However, i see a Scotland win at last in Cardiff without a big score though.
    C’mon Scotland

  3. The standout sentence in Iain’s article is: “Townsend cannot continue with two (or even three) openside flankers in the back row and expect to compete with the power packs out there.” This, as far as I’m concerned, is the greatest weakness in the Scotland team. We have available bodies out there that would give our back row the needed heft and strength to make the desired impact. Somebody mentioned Bradbury; he’s playing well, Christie is another. But I would look to one of our second rows and develop him into an eight. Here’s looking at you, Glen Young!

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  4. Would love to see Redpath start alongside Tuipulotu in the centres as he’s been absolutely pulling up trees with Finn for Bath this year. Huw-ipulotu ‘aint bad either though as a tried and tested pairing! Dempsey, Fagerson and Christie across the back is mouthwatering. Have a horrible feeling that we’ll see wee George again criminally relegated to the bench (or not even picked) in favour of White and Price.

    My team would be –

    Kinghorn – Steyn – Redpath – Tuipolotu – Van Der Merwe – Russell – Horne; Z Fagerson – Matthews – Schoeman – Cummings – Gray – Dempsey – Christie – M Fagerson

    Ashman – Bhatti – Sebastian – Skinner – Ritchie – White – Healey – Hutchinson

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  5. not all my choices but I’d be surprised if the team isn’t –
    Schoeman, Turner, Fagerson
    gray, Cummings
    Christie, Dempsey, Darge
    Whyte, Russell,Tuipulotu Jones
    Steyn , VD Merwe,
    Kinghorn.
    Bench – Sebastian, Bhatti, Ashman, Crosbie, Fagerson, Price, Rowe.

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  6. I don’t think Scotland fans should be too optimistic about this weekends game, we are notorious slow starters and Gatland knows how to combat Townsend’s ‘tactics’. Wales to win by 10 is my prediction

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      • Would love to see Christie Bradbury Crosbie…but would settle for Christie Dempsey Crosbie. For those of you advocating Fagerson falls precisely into the category of not big, powerful or aggressive enough category that we have relied and failed with throughout Townsends tenure.

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  7. Need Healy somewhere in the 23, Kinghorn not to be trusted at 10. Centres are a conundrum have got 4 very good ones. Matthews to start as the most dependable thrower.
    Kinghorn Steyn Tuipulotu Redpath VDM, Russell, White
    Dempsey, Crosbie, M.Fagerson, Gray, Young, Z.Fagerson, Matthews, Schoeman.
    Reps – Jones, Healy, Horne, Ritchie, Cummings, Sebastian, Turner, Bhatti.

    • Healy struggles to run a backline at Edinburgh….he’d be torn apart in 6n. He’s a siege gun kicker and a nice lad but he’s miles off being an international 10.ireland knew that and he was not even considered in their top ten options if Sexton had been crocked. BK10 would literally be a better option and that’s saying something.

  8. The beginning of a new Six Nations campaign is always special, although I’m astute enough to recognise that my excitement represents the triumph of hope over experience. ‘Scotland are competitive against most teams most of the time’, except when it really matters.

    Despite this having all the hallmarks of a Beckett play, there are still some reasons to be cheerful. Our back line is one of the best in the tournament and can blast holes through most defences, while hopefully our forwards will have the physical and mental toughness to compete toe-to-toe with the opposition. Not to mention improve its suspect lineout drill.

    I think the backs largely pick themselves, although there was a query for a while over which axis would prevail – the Glasgow partnership of Tuipolotu and Jones or that of the Bath pair Russell and Redpath? Mercifully Huw has been brought back in from the wing by his club in the nick of time and I believe the question has been answered, with Cammy almost certainly getting a seat on the bench.

    The scrum however – and as ever – poses greater issues. Longer term, will Scotland ever be able to manufacture a tight-head prop as Zander’s understudy and Nel’s replacement, for the years are ticking by without a single candidate looking likely to fit that bill. Shorter term there is the question of who goes into the boiler house in Gilchrist’s absence. But the most interesting question of all perhaps is how Toony will balance his back row. Christie is the hottest property in the English Premiership right now, although Darge has been given the ambiguous title of ‘co-captain. That suggests he will start come what may – except he hasn’t played for six weeks, is not match fit and the suggestion is that he is still struggling with injury. It’s a no-brainer for me, but then I’m not a flaky coach.

    And there is aur greatest potential weakness. Most unwisely, Townsend was given a new contract before the World Cup and has not had the integrity to step down following his most recent failure to launch. But he still has some of the finest ingredients available to man and I hope to goodness he can at long last put them together to give us a meal worth remembering.

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    • Totally agree on our greatest weakness and I had to cringe watching Townsend in the behind the scenes of last years 6N addressing the players as men like a bloody general.

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      • It isn’t inspiring – and absolutely tragic when you think what a great coach could have made of this team.

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  9. Team for Wales

    Kinghorn – Steyn – Jones – Tuipolotu – Van Der Merwe – Russell – Horne – Dempsey – Crosbie – Fagerson – Skinner – Gray – Fagerson – Turner – Schoeman

    Rowe – Hutchinson – White – Christie – Cummings – Sebastian – Bhatti – Ashman

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    • I’d be happy with that. However I’ve seen some disconcerting rumours today that Kinghorn is out of contention through injury, and that we are going with two debutant replacement props on the bench. Let’s see what tomorrows brings…

      • If that’s the case about Kinghorn, then I think it could be Rowe or Hutchinson to start at 15. I know Jones can cover fullback but he’s never done it for Scotland and hasn’t even done it at club level in ages. Would be surprised not to see Bhatti on the bench but Millar-Mills is expected considering Sebastian won’t be fit yet.

      • Every season it’s the same with GT…..going back to likes of Strauss he will take his petulance out on a couple of performers who are totally excluded for no obvious reason no matter how well they play. At the same time we see his favourites given game after game no matter how badly they play and how much they cost the team…..Horne v Price Harris v…..well take your pick of outstanding centres over the years and now Ashman v Matthews or Bradbury v Ritchie…..it’s inconceivable that his contract was extended before RWC and the entirely predictable acquiescence.

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    • It would be crazy not to start Christie given his current form, so one of Crosbie or Fagerson on the bench, probably the latter.
      We could go 6-2 on the bench if we allow BK to cover 10 but would prefer Bhatti – Sebastian – Matthews – Cummings – Fagerson – White – Healy – Redpath
      God knows who GT will actually pick but lack of (match) fitness surely makes Darge a very dicey choice. We’ve got 5 really good centres in the squad, it’ll be tough on whichever 2 / 3 get left out.

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