Following narrow defeats in Round 2 both Scotland and Wales will be looking for redemption when they meet at Murrayfield on Saturday.
So far Wales managed a convincing win over Italy at the start of the month despite a lacklustre performance. Now, two weeks on from their defeat to England, questions are still being asked over how Rob Howley’s men lost their lead and the notorious Ross Moriarty substitution.
Whatever the reasons for the loss, the consequence is that Wales sit in third place only by goal difference – Wales, Scotland and France all have five points.
The story of Scotland’s second round is not dissimilar. Tim Swinson’s try in the second half at the Stade de France looked to secure a win for the Scots. Sadly, Les Bleus were allowed too many penalties and Camille Lopez was on top kicking form.
Perhaps more depressing than the scoreline is the number of injuries sustained by Scotland in their brutal physical battle with the French. Captain Greig Laidlaw and number eight Josh Strauss will both be out for at least a month.
On top of this, four players, including new captain John Barclay, have missed training due to return-to-play protocols they underwent after knocks to the head in the match. With all this instability, Laidlaw’s leadership, and more importantly his kicking game, are sure to be missed at Murrayfield this weekend.
Vern Cotter will find this particularly painful given his side’s promising start in the competition – a 27-22 win over Ireland. That was an impressive victory, but Scotland need bigger scores if they’re going to climb up from fifth place in the table.
Last time, it was George North who clinched a very narrow victory for his team with a late breakaway try. Wales will rejoice in the return of North after he was ruled out of the England game with a dead leg.
This year the battle between Wales and Scotland looks to be up front, but the winger’s physicality will be crucial at the breakdown. This is an area in which both teams are competitive, as Wales’ defence coach Shaun Edwards told The Gaurdian.
He said: “We practise turning the ball over every day in training and Scotland do the same. They compete heavily on the ball and it will be a battle royal at the breakdown, within the laws of the game.”
Scotland prop Gordon Reid meanwhile believes the set-piece will be decisive.
“Teams will be targeting our set pieces, which did not go that well against Ireland and France, and I think we are getting there,” he explained.
“We have been working on technique in the scrum because we know what Wales are going to bring there and we need to front up.”
Players to Watch
For Wales: Ross Moriarty performed incredibly for the 53 minutes he was allowed to play against England. The 22-year-old put in some huge tackles to keep his team in the game: is it just a coincidence that Elliot Daly only made it over the whitewash once Moriarty was off the field?
No Welsh centre is in better form meanwhile than Scott Williams, the influential Scarlet who continues to keep Jamie Roberts out of the side and has broken the gain-line at will in recent weeks.
For Scotland: Tim Visser comes in to replace Shaun Maitland, who sustained a rib injury playing for Saracens. Visser looked impressive for Quins at the weekend, making 87 metres and three clean breaks. He could be the Scottish antidote to George North.
Saturday’s game will also be a momentous occasion for John Barclay. Not long after his international career almost seemed over, he now leads his country against several familiar faces from his club, the Scarlets.
Head-to-head: Big breaks from wingers North and Visser could prove crucial but, as previously mentioned, the front rows are more likely to decide the game. Glasgow Warriors Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson face up to Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis.
The Scots were heroic for their club in the Champions Cup last month, but have not yet reached their full potential in this Six Nations.
With such pivotal players injured, the scrum could be more important than ever for the men in blue. Let’s hope their preparation in this area has been as meticulous as Reid suggests.
2016: Wales won 27-23 in Cardiff
2015: Wales won 26-23 in Edinburgh
2014: Wales won 51-3 in Cardiff
2013: Wales won 28-18 in Edinburgh
2012: Wales won 27-13 in Cardiff
2011: Wales won 24-6 in Edinburgh
2010: Wales won 31-24 in Cardiff
2009: Wales won 26-13 in Edinburgh
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts
Date: Saturday, February 25
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14:25 GMT
Referee: Johnny Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle (England), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)