6N: Depleted Wales still very familiar to Scotland skipper
Wales won’t have Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Webb, Jonathan Davies, George North, Dan Biggar, or Liam Williams. The injury list goes on.
And yet Wales will still look very familiar to Scotland skipper John Barclay on Saturday in Cardiff.
”They’re my mates,” Barclay says.
Specifically, the guys from Scarlets, the Welsh club which will have a banner day when it contributes one Scot and 12 Welshmen (two in the reserves) to the Six Nations opening match.
To Barclay, who has captained Scarlets among more than 100 appearances, he doesn’t see a Wales depleted or weakened. Not with so many Scarlets on board.
”They’re serious rugby players who are carrying some serious confidence into the championship after our recent performances in Europe and, I promise you, there isn’t a single soul in the Scotland camp who is looking at their lineup and thinking about the ones who are missing,” Barclay says in a column for the BBC.
He admits to having some insight into his mates’ mindsets, and their strengths and weaknesses. But because they’re dressed for Wales, Barclay doesn’t consider his knowledge much of an advantage. ”The insight it gives me is quite minimal,” he says.
Scotland center Huw Jones begs to differ.
”John has been very generous in sharing some of his tips,” Jones says. ”It should be an exciting game.”
It could be under what will be a closed roof, because the mindset of Scotland and Scarlets is similar: Adventurous.
That attitude gave Scotland wins over Australia last year, home and away, and propelled the Pro12 champion Scarlets into the European Champions Cup quarterfinals.
The strutting and high-flying Scarlets feature in the front row for Wales and, essentially, the entire backline. Josh Adams, a former Scarlets Academy winger who has become the leading try-scorer in the English Premiership this season, will make his debut.
With more than 500 caps’ worth of talent sidelined, compensation ought to come from the Scarlets connection, says Rhys Patchell, who will make his championship debut at flyhalf in place of the injured Biggar and Rhys Priestland.
”Principality Stadium is a very difficult place to play in terms of sound,” Patchell says. ”I know that sounds daft but that’s what really struck me in the autumn, was how hard it was to hear each other and communicate on the field. So, hopefully, having a couple of familiar faces around will help.”
Wales’ injury toll and underwhelming results have parlayed into the lowest expectations of the team in years. Coach Warren Gatland has resisted observers by claiming his side will win the championship for the first time in five years.
At a minimum, Wales must win its three home games. It will be protecting a 16-year unbeaten run against Scotland in Cardiff.
Gregor Townsend believes his Scotland team can win the championship, too.
Injuries have also forced him to test his depth. Without six front-line props and three hookers, he’s plumped for England-based props Gordon Reid, who missed the autumn tests with a head injury, and Jon Welsh, last seen at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The reserve hooker is Scott Lawson, who last played for Scotland four years ago.
With a makeshift front row and a newcomer at center in Chris Harris, Townsend has plenty of concerns. Another is not being at Murrayfield.
Lawson and Barclay are the only players in the team who know what it’s like to win away from home, other than in Rome. Scotland has not beaten anyone away from home other than Italy in almost eight years.
”Winning away is hard,” Barclay says, ”but if we’re serious about pushing up the table then that’s what we have to do.”
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Ross Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Aaron Shingler, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Cory Hill, Samson Lee, Ken Owens, Rob Evans. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Owen Watkin.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Chris Harris, Huw Jones, Byron McGuigan, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Cornell du Preez, Hamish Watson, John Barclay (captain), Jonny Gray, Ben Toolis, Jon Welsh, Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid. Reserves: Scott Lawson, Jamie Bhatti, Murray McCallum, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Wilson, Greig Laidlaw, Pete Horne, Sean Maitland.