Preview: Scotland v Wales

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After a week of off-field turmoil and disruption in Welsh rugby, on-field action returns as Wales travel up to Scotland with a Grand Slam still on the horizon for Warren Gatland’s men.

The form card is still hugely impressive for the men in red, with 12 straight wins marking the best winning streak in the history of the national team, and putting us firmly on course for a third Grand Slam in eleven years, and a fitting way to see out Gatland’s last Six Nations

We go up against a Scotland team who have never beaten a Wales team actually coached by the New Zealander, with Rob Howley in charge during the British and Irish Lions year of 2017 when the Scots won 29-13 at Murrayfield. Apart from that it’s 12 wins for the Welsh since 2008.

The most recent of those was in November, when Wales won the Doddie Weir Cup as tries from Jon Davies and George North secured a 21-10 victory, while earlier last year there was an emphatic 34-7 scoreline as we got the 2018 Six Nations campaign off to a flyer at the Principality Stadium.

Jon Davies Scotland 2
Jon Davies was one of the scorers in November

Unfortunately the off-field debacle of Project Reset, that has seen Ospreys and Scarlets almost merge before all parties made a number of increasingly strong-worded and contradictory statements, has somewhat distracted attention away from the rugby this week, with Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones both speaking openly to the media on the matter.

Of course they insisted that the players minds are fully focussed on the job in hand at Murrayfield, but if a defeat were to occur, the headlines will be dominated by what effect Reset had on the concentration of the Wales players.

That concentration will be key as Scotland are able to welcome a few important players back into their squad, with Finn Russell starting at fly-half after missing their loss to France through concussion, and tighthead WP Nel making his first appearance of the campaign.

There is also a selection surprise from head coach Gregor Townsend, as Ali Price replaces captain Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half. Hamish Watson returns from injury but only makes the bench in the exact fixture he terrorised Wales in two years ago.

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Pete Horne, Darcy Graham, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Allan Dell, Stuart McInally (c), Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Josh Strauss

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Hamish Watson, Greig Laidlaw, Adam Hastings, Byron McGuigan

Finn Russell, now of Racing 92, is the key man for Scotland

On the other side Warren Gatland has sprung no selection surprises at all, with just the one injury enforced change to the XV who beat England two weeks ago.

Cory Hill is ruled out with Adam Beard taking his place, while Jake Ball steps onto the bench. Leigh Halfpenny is back to full fitness but has not been considered for the 23.

Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin

There’s no doubt that Wales are favourites but with the off-field distractions and thoughts of a Grand Slam, a banana skin has been planted firmly on the halfway line of Murrayfield for this afternoon’s game.

Warren Gatland’s men should be confident of getting the upper hand up front, and then it will be about imposing our attacking structure on the game to test the Scotland defence, knowing that it broke fairly easily in each of the last two encounters.

The risk is that the game becomes too open, Scotland can throw the ball around and stretch us, and then pick up points regularly enough to stay in the game and give them and the crowd hope late on.

Our kicking game will be key, but the quality should be there to come away from Murrayfield with the four points.

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