BIG MATCH PREVIEW: Wales' power and finishing skills should see off the Scots
SCOTLAND v WALES (Today, KO 2.30)
WALES star Toby Faletau pays no attention to statistics but one thing is for sure, there will only be one outcome if data from a fortnight ago is repeated at Murrayfield this afternoon.
When Scotland welcomed Ireland to Edinburgh the visitors had 71 per cent of the possession, they made four line breaks and forced their hosts into making 128 tackles.
Yet when referee Wayne Barnes blew his whistle for the last time it was the men in blue that raised their arms to the air while those in green slumped to the floor.
Ireland scored the only try of the game through Craig Gilroy but suffered a 12-8 defeat.
The old cliché about miserly Scots rang true – they didn’t offer any freebies and scrambled magnificently in def-ence.
But if they give Wales the same opportunities this afternoon then it will be a third away win on the spin for interim head boss Rob Howley.
The coaching staff’s eyes would have lit up when, with a win in Italy wrapped up, they sat down the following afternoon to watch Ulster centre Luke Marshall running free in Edinburgh.
Ireland took just one of their many chances but George North, Alex Cuth-bert, Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Davies won’t be so lacklustre.
In light of the bulky strike runners that have headed north, Scotland have made a significant change to their line-up.
Out goes Ruaridh Jackson, in comes Duncan Weir. They have opted for the sturdier Glasgow option and the one with a bigger boot.
It’s not just Scotland boss and former Ospreys chief Scott Johnson who has tinkered with a winning side because of perceived strengths of the opposition.
Howley was forced to bring in loosehead Paul James because of Gethin Jenkins’ injured calf – an enforced change that will strengthen Wales’ scrum – but the two other alterations to the XV were entirely his calls.
Dragons lock Andrew Coombs has been a revelation but if you take the Gwent blinkers off then it comes as no surprise that experienced British Lion Alun Wyn Jones got the nod once he proved his fitness.
The Ospreys man will add more bulk against the in-form and enormous Scottish duo of Jim Hamilton and Richie Gray but Coombs will still have a big part to play off the bench, whether in the second row or at six.
More contentious is the decision to hand the number seven jersey (but not the captaincy) back to Sam Warbur-ton. Justin Tipuric performed admirably in Paris and Rome and would have fancied his chances of another strong showing on the large Murrayfield pitch, particularly given Johnson’s liking for giving the ball some air and playing expansively.
But the power of the Scottish back row, and in particular number eight Johnnie Beattie, weighed heavily on the mind of Howley.
Both of his opensides are excellent at the contact area but he opted for the slightly more heavy set Warburton rather than the footballer Tipuric.
It’s a call that I back and I believe the Cardiff Blues man will have a stormer, and as ever that breakdown battle will be key.
Wingers North, Cuthbert, Sean Maitland and Tim Visser and full-backs Half-penny and Stuart Hogg are all potential Lions.
But the chances of those in 11, 14 and 15 giving a nudge to Warren Gatland will be dictated by the performances of those in 6, 7 and 8.
Once again Wales, with Ryan Jones and Faletau in majestic form, have the edge and they should secure a success that earns second place in the tournament.
There is talk of it being a title eliminator with the losers unable to catch England.
But even if Stuart Lancaster’s side, who will beat Italy tomorrow, fail to secure a Grand Slam in Cardiff, their points difference will ensure that they lift the trophy with frowns.
Wales have won their last five Tests against Scotland and are chasing their fifth successive away tournament victory – a feat they have never achieved.
They should have enough firepower and sharp finishing to make history and, mathematically at least, set up a title showdown.