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Five talking points as Wales take on Scotland in their Six Nations opener

02 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Wales’ Dafydd Jenkins (right) is tackled by Georgia’s Mikheil Gachechiladze (left) David Davies/PA Wire

Andrew Baldock

Wales host Guinness Six Nations opponents Scotland on Saturday with both countries looking to blast out of the starting blocks.

Momentum is key in European rugby’s blue riband tournament, and it could be a long campaign for whichever team ends up losing.

Here, we look at some of the key talking points heading into the game.

Home sweet home for Wales

When it comes to making home advantage count in the Six Nations, Wales have repeatedly delivered against Scotland. It is 22 years since the Scots triumphed in Cardiff, a 27-22 victory secured through stoppage-time penalties kicked by Brendan Laney and Duncan Hodge. Current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was the fly-half that April afternoon, with hooker Gordon Bulloch scoring two tries, but it has been a tale of woe since then.

Eleven successive defeats – nine Six Nations games, one World Cup warm-up and an autumn Test – unfolded at an average scoreline of 29-14. Scotland did claim a Six Nations win on Welsh soil four years ago during the coronavirus pandemic, but that match was staged in Llanelli behind closed doors.

Flying Finn to fire Scots?

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell is one of world rugby’s genuine box-office talents, and a Six Nations tournament that will not see the likes of star names Antoine Dupont, Louis Rees-Zammit and potentially Marcus Smith this season needs Russell firing on all cylinders. The 31-year-old captains Scotland on Saturday, and he can be expected to relish that responsibility.

Russell lines up on the post-World Cup international stage after producing some command performances for his new club Bath in domestic and European arenas, with the west country club challenging for Premiership and Champions Cup honours. If he hits top form, Scotland will flourish.

Captain Jenkins in the spotlight

Exeter’s 21-year-old lock Dafydd Jenkins will become the youngest Wales captain since Gareth Edwards in 1968 when he leads his country out against Scotland. But such an honour being handed to him only 12 caps into his Test career should not come as a surprise. He first captained Exeter at the age of 19, and this season he has led impressively from the front, with Chiefs firmly in Premiership play-off contention and through to the Champions Cup round of 16.

“He pretty much gets everything right,” Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter said of Jenkins. “Our job is to try not to put too much on his shoulders, but at the same time he is exactly the kind of guy you want as captain of your team.”

Wales fans might need to be patient

Wales have enjoyed considerable success in the Six Nations, being crowned champions on six occasions, with four of those titles achieved in Grand Slam fashion. Five Triple Crowns can also be added to an impressive roll of honour as they have repeatedly punched above their weight, but any challenge for silverware this season appears unlikely.

The long road to World Cup 2027 in Australia starts with Wales fielding their least-experienced Six Nations starting XV since 2019, as a combination of factors mean players like Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, George North, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau are unavailable. The Scotland game is followed by England at Twickenham, Ireland in Dublin and France at home, so Wales are unquestionably up against it.

Can Scotland handle expectation?

Six Nations history might be against them, but Scotland will arrive in Cardiff as firm favourites to end their dismal losing run. Wales field just seven of the side that lost to World Cup quarter-final opponents Argentina last time out, and players like Russell, wing Duhan van der Merwe and centre Huw Jones are genuine game-breakers more than capable of testing a new-look Wales side.

If the Scots hit their straps, then they could win with something to spare, setting themselves up for a Murrayfield showdown with France next weekend, but the biggest battle could be overcoming those Cardiff demons and keeping them at bay.

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