Preview: Wales vs Scotland

Wales and Scotland will be desperate to end disappointing Six Nations campaigns on a high when they meet in Cardiff.

Warren Gatland is not a man prone to uncertainty or excuses when times are tough. Nor does he panic and deviate from Plan A when it isn't bearing fruit. Perhaps then it was surprising to see the Wales coach make such comparatively sweeping changes on Thursday to a side he has crafted and trusted for several years. We shouldn't read too much into this selection – after all, there isn't a lot at stake on Saturday – but it does hint at the first signs of the guard changing in this Wales team.

Gone is stalwart Adam Jones, who has struggled with the new scrum protocols this season and is not the force of old. Richard Hibbard is benched too as he nears the end of a season best described as 'bruising'. The hooker has established himself as one of Europe's most physical players, and the combined effect of his and Jones's absence from the scrum will be important.

With Scotland's lineout suddenly hitting form, and Jim Hamilton proving an aerial nuisance against Italy and France for as long he kept bouts of rashness to a minimum, Wales' set piece must be slick. Hamilton and Richie Gray are towering presences to match Luke Charteris's extreme height, and the Scots have functioned much better on their own throw since the introduction of Scott Lawson at hooker.

Wales undoubtedly have the better of the back rows, as Scott Johnson sticks with the powerful but unbalanced trio that started last week. A huge performance is needed from captain Kelly Brown, who finds himself up against an all-British & Irish Lions triumvirate at the breakdown.

The hosts, whose backline from 11-15 is as entrenched as they come, have the edge behind the scrummage too. Scotland's centres are maturing and improving, but face a real physical challenge in Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.

There are a couple of rather glaring mismatches out wide as the hulking duo of George North and Alex Cuthbert line up on the wings against the diminutive Max Evans and the slight Dougie Fife, making his Test debut. Evans can hold his own, but defensive frailty is the biggest blight on Fife's game.

For the visitors, smart rugby is the key: keep possession, and pin Wales back in their own half; it's worth testing Liam Williams at fullback with high ball or three. The problem is that 'Scotland' and 'smart rugby' don't often mix. The Scots, as they demonstrated so perfectly against France, are blessed with the uncanny ability to shoot themselves in the foot. Even in the absence of Leigh Halfpenny, Johnson's men cannot afford to add another 12 or 13 infringements to their staggering championship penalty count of 51.

Wales – 15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Paul James, 18 Adam Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 James Hook.

Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Max Evans, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Dave Denton, 7 Kelly Brown (c), 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Ryan Grant.
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Al Dickinson, 18 Euan Murray, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Al Strokosch, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Jack Cuthbert.

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France vs Ireland preview

Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

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