The Welsh match day squad for the Scotland game has been announced. The biggest talking point is probably the selection of Sam Warburton at 7 ahead of Justin Tipuric. Below is a brief assessment of the team to face Scotland…
Front row: Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones
Gethin’s injury has given Paul James the opportunity that many felt he deserved on form anyway. Paul James has been performing really well at Bath and is a more destructive scrummager than Gethin. Hibbard is acknowledged to be a very solid scrummager and Adam’s reputation precedes him. This is a balanced and extremely strong front row unit.
Second row: Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans
Alun Wyn comes back into the starting 15 to replace Andrew Coombs. I must admit I feel sorry for Coombs who has given his all and hasn’t really put a foot wrong. Alun Wyn might well be world class and might have certain abilities that Coombs doesn’t, but Coombs has definitely sent a strong message to all of our locks about workrate. He has tackled and carried tirelessly and deserves the utmost praise for that. We all thought we had a lock crisis on our hands, but Andrew certainly stepped up when his country needed him.
Back row: Ryan Jones (c), Sam Warburton, Toby Faletau
Probably to the surprise of most people, Sam Warburton replaces Tipuric who is definitely the form 7. I guess Warburton gives you more physicality, Tipuric more footballing ability and creativity. Presumably Howley thinks we need physicality against Scotland and England and that’s understandable. I can’t help but feel that this is really tough on Tipuric though. Good to see Ryan retain the captaincy, he’s been superb for us and it’s good to see Faletau getting back to his dynamic best.
Halfbacks: Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips
No changes were expected in this department. Despite Phillips receiving criticism from all and sundry for being too slow, I think he’s been immense for us in this competition. Dan Biggar started extremely poorly, but has improved slowly and steadily. France and Italy were both poor, so this Scotland game will give Biggar a good opportunity to show how far he has actually come.
Centres: Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies
Our centres have been solid in defence, especially Roberts, but have been unspectacular going forward. The lack of creativity has been obvious to all and I would have welcomed any change because of this. I would have liked to have seen Hook replace Jonathan Davies to give us some extra ability in terms of handling and distribution, but then I’ve made that quite clear for some time now.
Back three: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, George North
Halfpenny has been brilliant for us (as expected). His goalkicking has been fantastic, but he needs to start offering a bit more with ball in hand if he is to see off competition from Hogg and Kearney for the Lions 15 shirt. Cuthbert has been brilliant at times going forward, but has looked very uncertain in defence. North has been ok in defence, but disappointing with ball in hand. I would like to see Cuthbert show a bit more aggression in defence and North stop slowing down and hesitating before going into contact.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Scott Andrews, Ryan Bevington, Andrew Coombs, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams
Scott Andrews did a great job for us in the autumn against New Zealand and Australia and has been performing really well in a struggling Blues side ever since. It’s great to see him rewarded with a place in the 23. Bevington also gets a chance to impress after some fantastic games for the Ospreys. Expect Tipuric and Lloyd Williams to have a big effect on this game when they leave the bench.
So, is this team good enough to beat Scotland? What do you think Scott Johnson will have up his sleeve? What tactics do you think we should employ to see off the Scots in their own backyard?