Gatland wary of Finn Russell threat as Wales look to bounce back against Scotland
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has hailed Scotland star Finn Russell as someone who “plays with a smile on his face” ahead of Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash at Murrayfield.
Fly-half Russell delivered an assured display in Scotland’s outstanding Calcutta Cup victory over England on the tournament’s opening weekend.
And he will aim to plot Wales’ downfall, opposing a much-changed team after Gatland left British and Irish Lions trio Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau out of his starting XV.
Gatland has insisted that selection was not a knee-jerk reaction to a 34-10 home defeat against Ireland as he runs the rule over inexperienced World Cup hopefuls like Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza and Tommy Reffell.
Asked about Russell, Gatland said: “There is no doubt he has matured incredibly as a player.
“I think in the past, people would call him a maverick. I am not quite sure that tag is applicable at the moment.
“I just think with that maturity in his game-management, what he has learnt in his attacking game and kicking game, I think he has got an incredible balance.
“What I love about him is that he plays with a smile on his face. He is pretty relaxed in the way that he plays.
“He is pretty key for them, he is on top of his form and he was excellent for them last week.”
Scotland have never won their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign, while recent home fortunes against Wales show six defeats from the last seven meetings.
The Scots will encounter a Wales pack containing just two survivors in their starting positions – hooker Ken Owens and lock Adam Beard – following a 34-10 opening weekend defeat against Ireland.
Gatland added: “We have realised we’ve got a bit of a disparity between the experience and the inexperience in the squad.
“How do we get these youngsters some game-time and get them up to speed? That is by playing international rugby. There hasn’t been any change in our thinking.
“There is definitely some huge talent there at the moment, and we need to find ways to give them opportunities to get that experience.
“Last week was about finding out where we are as a squad with the players we picked, and we always spoke about how do we give the young players an opportunity.
“There has been no knee-jerk reaction, because this has been part of the plan right from day one.
“I have spoken about it as well and said we need to find out about some of these youngsters.
“I have done that in the past by making lots and lots of changes in the autumn, but it is about finding the right mix.”
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