We look ahead to round one’s final game at the 2024 Guinness Men’s Six Nations with our Wales vs Scotland prediction and preview.
Scotland have fared well in their opening Guinness Men’s Six Nations fixtures over recent years, winning each of their last three (all against England), as many victories as in their previous 21 opening encounters combined (L18). This, coupled with the fact that their largest-ever Test victory against Wales came in last year’s Championship (35-7) at Murrayfield, means that Gregor Townsend’s men will be hopeful of laying down a serious marker for the rest of their campaign at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
Standing in their way is a Welsh team who, despite a litany of retirements and injuries (as well as the odd NFL switch), always seem to prove their resilience in the face of adversity. Last year’s drubbing aside, Warren Gatland has a fantastic Six Nations record against Scotland. Before that defeat, his only previous loss against them had come over 20 years ago, back when he was Ireland coach (32-10 in 2001). A slightly more promising display in the World Cup will give Welsh fans cause for optimism as Gatland looks to blood the next generation of Cymru stars amid a substantial rebuild.
For all the attacking flair on display throughout Wales’ and Scotland’s squads, it’s defensively that both sides have shined recently. Scotland have recorded the highest tackle success rate of any side in three of the last four Six Nations campaigns, including last year (92%), and despite their pool-stage exit, they also had the highest success rate of any team in the World Cup (90%). Wales for their part recorded the third-highest tackle success rate in France last autumn (89%).
Those numbers are all the more impressive considering the sheer volume of tackles these two sides get through – Scotland made the most tackles overall of any team in last year’s Six Nations (831), while Wales made more tackles per game than any other team in the World Cup (167), including a monstrous 253 in their opener against Fiji, which set an all-time Rugby World Cup record.
Wales’ kick-chase game has always been a strong element of their gameplan under Gatland and it was one of the few areas they excelled in during last year’s Six Nations. Their 14% retention rate from open-play kicks was the highest of any nation. Scotland’s retention rate was significantly lower at 8%, but they were the only nation to pull off two 50/22 kicks.
Struggles at the set-piece will have given both head coaches headaches over the last 12 months. Wales (85.1%) and Scotland (85.0%) had the lowest success rates on their own lineouts of any sides in the 2023 Six Nations, while Wales’ 80.7% scrummaging success rate was also a Championship-low.
Wales did however see their scrum success rate rise to a tournament-high of 97% in the World Cup, while Scotland’s sunk to a miserly 76%, the lowest in the competition.
Discipline has also been an issue for both Wales and Scotland, who conceded 63 and 54 penalties respectively in last year’s Six Nations – no other side conceded more. There were three yellow cards in this fixture in 2023 (Wales 2, Scotland 1), the most in a match in last year’s Championship.
One of those yellow cards came just before the final whistle, but the two others came at a cost – Scotland conceded a try immediately after George Turner was sin-binned, while Wales suffered a similar fate when Liam Williams’ was given 10 minutes on the naughty step. Both sides will need to improve on that facet of their game if they are to mount a serious challenge in 2024.
Much of Scotland’s gameplan will be centred around the exploits of
Lionel Messi Finn Russell, who comes into this year’s Championship in sensational form for both club and country. The mercurial Scot has assisted more line breaks than any other Tier 1 player over the last two years (19), while only Antoine Dupont has directly assisted as many tries as him in that time (15 each). Three of those try assists came against Wales last year, when Russell became the first Scotsman ever to record a hat-trick of assists in a Six Nations match.
Duhan van der Merwe beat nine Welsh defenders in that same game on his way to a 2023 total of 35, which set a new record for defenders beaten in a single Six Nations campaign, overtaking his own previous record of 31 set in 2021. Surprisingly though, he is yet to score against Wales in four Championship appearances and will be champing at the bit to get off the mark against them on Saturday.
George North will have to wait to become just the fourth Welsh player to reach 50 Six Nations appearances, after Stephen Jones (50), Gethin Jenkins (56) and Alun Wyn Jones (67), after being ruled out with injury. He has Brian O’Driscoll’s Championship record of 26 tries firmly in his sights (23 currently).
At the opposite end of the experience spectrum is Dafydd Jenkins, who will lead his nation out against Scotland at the age of just 21 years and 60 days old, over two years younger than the previous youngest captain of a Six Nations side, Sam Warburton (23y 123d vs Ireland in 2012).
Wales vs Scotland Six Nations Prediction
Ahead of kick-off, the Opta supercomputer predicts this encounter will be a lot closer than last year’s reverse fixture, but it backs Scotland (62.8%) to get the job done. Wales are still very much a live threat at 36.4%, while the draw is an unlikely 0.8%.
The model projects Scotland win this game by nine points (27-18).
Wales vs Scotland Lineups
Wales: Cameron Winnett; Josh Adams, Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins, Rio Dyer; Sam Costelow, Gareth Davies; Corey Domachowski, Ryan Elias, Leon Brown, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins (c), James Botham, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Kemsley Mathias, Keiron Assiratti, Teddy Williams, Alex Mann, Tomos Williams, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady.
Scotland: Kyle Rowe, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Scott Cummings, Luke Crosbie, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson
Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Alec Hepburn, Elliot Millar-Mills, Sam Skinner, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Ben Healy, Cam Redpath