6N: Injury-hit Wales licking wounds ahead of Scotland visit
The Welsh are used to getting written off in the Six Nations.
Often it’s way too premature. This time, the negativity might be justified.
An opening-round 29-7 loss to Ireland in Dublin was a wretched way for Wales to begin its defense of a title won, somewhat naturally, against the odds last year.
It was the manner of the performance — more than the result — that was of concern to Wales fans, who saw the team’s attack flounder in the face of a wall of green shirts and its defense cut open for four tries.
Are Wales’ title hopes over? Of course not.
But given the team’s injury situation and the fact a Scotland team buoyant after a win over its Auld Enemy is heading to Cardiff, it’s already clear it would be a mighty shock if the Welsh pull off another championship triumph this year.
And Wayne Pivac is already seeing the danger signals. Why else would the Wales coach be overhauling his already injury-ravaged back row after just one game, including bringing in a 22-year-old for his senior debut?
Maybe, though, Jac Morgan is just that good. After all, the country’s former under-20 captain has been arguably the form flanker in the Welsh domestic game, with stats supplier Opta saying he has made more tackles in the United Rugby Championship (144) than anyone else.
With Ross Moriarty also promoted from the reserves, the Welsh shouldn’t be short of the kind of aggression and physicality they lacked in Dublin.
Morgan faces a baptism of fire against Scotland openside Hamish Watson, who last year was the player of the Six Nations and a member of the British and Irish Lions test team in South Africa.
Pivac will know there are more areas to fix — Wales didn’t threaten Ireland’s line until Taine Basham’s late consolation try — but it is a case of plugging gaps at the moment with star players such as Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens and George North all out injured. Adding to the injury list for this week is Josh Adams (calf), the winger who played in the centers against Ireland in an experiment that didn’t pay off.
Lose to Scotland and the Six Nations could be a washout for the Welsh, who must travel to England in Round 3 and host title favorite France in Round 4.
Not that the Welsh are getting too downbeat just yet.
“Things are never going to go perfect,” said hooker Dewi Lake, a debutant as a replacement against Ireland. “It’s a combination of five games. It’s how we bounce back this week rather than dwelling on last weekend.
“There are always things that you will pick up in every game, but that physicality, that edge, is something we’re looking to bring this weekend.”
Scotland brought that against England in filthy conditions at Murrayfield, with the victory seeing Gregor Townsend’s players finally match expectations placed on them in recent seasons.
Getting a big win on the road would be another statement and set the Scots up for a tilt at a first title since 1999 — when it was the Five Nations. They did win in their last Six Nations visit to Wales, in a match played without spectators in Llanelli in 2020, but repeating that at a sold-out Principality Stadium is another thing entirely. Scotland hasn’t won in Cardiff in 20 years.
“Wales have got a few injuries but they are still a really good team who are always full of belief — they always get results when they need them,” Watson said.
Of Scotland’s five changes, three came in the front row while flanker Jamie Ritchie was ruled out of the tournament after hamstring surgery.
The only change in the backs saw Sione Tuipulotu come into the midfield for his first test start.
For Wales, winger Alex Cuthbert will be making his first Six Nations appearance in five years after taking the place of Johnny McNicholl. Cuthbert is back in the fold after being overlooked by his country for the past three seasons while playing his club rugby in England with Exeter. He has since returned to Welsh rugby with the Ospreys and featured for Wales in the autumn.
Wales: Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins, Louis Rees-Zammit, Dan Biggar (captain), Tomos Williams; Ross Moriarty, Jac Morgan, Taine Basham, Adam Beard, Will Rowlands, Tomas Francis, Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones. Reserves: Dewi Lake, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Aaron Wainwright, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Jonathan Davies.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain), Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, WP Nel, Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally. Reserves: George Turner, Rory Sutherland, Zander Fagerson, Magnus Bradbury, Rory Darge, Ben White, Blair Kinghorn, Cameron Redpath.
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