The Six Nations, ‘Rugby’s Greatest Championship’, begins this weekend, kicking off in Cardiff as Wales host Scotland at the Principality Stadium with a 14:15 kick-off.
It is the first time we’ve kicked off against the Scots since 2009, and you have to go back 16 years for the last time there was a home defeat in this fixture, tries from Gordon Bulloch and the boot of Brendan Laney securing the away win that day.
Now there is a different landscape to Scottish rugby though. Vern Cotter created the foundations, and now Gregor Townsend has dragged the nation that has never won the Six Nations forwards with an ambitiously attacking style of play.
So far it is yet to yield any serious success though. Brief moments of joy with wins over Australia and Ireland have been tempered by an agonising defeat to New Zealand and disappointment on the road last Six Nations leading to an average tournament.
That issue with away games is a long drawn out issue now, with no victories in nine attempts at winning away in the first game of the tournament for Scotland, something which will need to be righted if this talented squad is to reach their full potential.
Wales, on the other hand, are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2017 Six Nations ahead of the build up to the 2019 World Cup. A fifth place finish under the command of Rob Howley, with Warren Gatland on Lions duty, didn’t exactly do much to inspire confidence in the coaching ability of the former scrum-half.
Gatland has returned now though, for what will be his 50th Six Nations game in charge of Wales, and brings the side into the tournament off the back of a Autumn series that churned out predictable results, but performances to ponder.
An attempted change in attacking playing style, with Owen Williams instilled at inside centre as a second playmaker, was trialled throughout the four games with varying levels of success. Early promising signs against Australia were stunted by a number of changes against Georgia, and then yet another loss to New Zealand.
Against South Africa there were positive signs though, a win against an admittedly under-par Springboks brought about by a balance of expansive and direct attacking, with added tactical kicking put in the mix.
Something similar to these tactics will be required on Saturday as Wales go up against a Scotland side suffering an injury crisis in the front row, with the home side expected to dominate up front in the scrum and on the ground.
On the back of that they will need to mix up the attacking game against a Scottish side who should be adept at defending an attacking game plan that isn’t dissimilar to their’s. A wide and fast offensive aim, thriving off broken play and being able to score from anywhere.
It’s all set to be a cracking game at the Principality Stadium to kick-off the Six Nations on Saturday, with two hopefully attack minded teams going all out in an entertaining test match. I’ve got a feeling Wales may just sneak it though.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi, Ross Moriarty
Replacements: Elliott Dee, Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Owen Watkin
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Chris Harris, Huw Jones, Byron McGuigan, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, Stuart McInally, Jon Welsh, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray, John Barclay (c), Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez
Replacements: Rory Lawson, Jamie Bhatti, Murray McCallum, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Wilson, Greig Laidlaw, Peter Horne, Scott Maitland