Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stuart Barnes’s Big Game: Wales v Scotland

Wales’s slide from the top tier of international teams gathered momentum with a lacklustre performance at Twickenham. England were not that good but for all bar 20 minutes. Wales were that bad. Muscle and mean defensive mentality has become the leading edge of their game but Wales’s players remain at their best playing attacking rugby.

Martyn Williams is a glorious link and Jamie Roberts and James Hook are capable of causing endless problems to the best teams while Stephen Jones is never afraid to stand flat and in the firing line. The scrum is good and should be much better still this weekend. They are overwhelming favourites to beat Scotland this weekend but the Welsh players will need to cut out the stupid mistakes that undermined them in London. In the 10 minutes Alun Wyn Jones was sitting out his sin-bin sentence, Wales leaked 17 unanswered points. The Welsh management didn’t hold back in their criticism but teams frequently play with one man down and rarely concede so much. Shouldn’t the defensive system of Shaun Edwards be subjected to more scrutiny than it has so far?

Scotland are not the ideal test of Edwards’ defence. Phil Godman has been dropped and Dan Parks recalled in the merry-go-round of two substitute internationals taking their turn to play and be dropped. Chris Paterson is not the ideal answer but Scotland have a few decent full back options and he kicks goals, while bringing experience in the position.

They have a superior balance to their attack with Rory Lamont adding more bite alongside his brother Sean, who caused genuine problems for France from the wing. Andy Robinson has moved him into the centre to get him more involved. It’s logical but it doesn’t always work.

What must work if Scotland are to win is their back row for whom Johnnie Beattie was excellent in Edinburgh. With Robinson running the side this comes as no great shock. The man knows his back row. Robinson will be delighted to have Euan Murray back from his self-imposed Sunday exile. Scotland would like nothing more than Murray’s inspiration as a changing-room presence, but in the likely absence of divinity, they will have to make do with...

Wales V Scotland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

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