Scotland vs Wales: 3 key head-to-head battles

Scotland vs Wales: 3 key head-to-head battles
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There are 3 key head-to-head battles that will play out in this weekend’s Scotland vs Wales Six Nations fixture.

Each with a different level of importance on the game’s outcome. From the backline, to the flank, match-ups here could define how well Scotland can attack the Welsh visitors, and vice versa.

James Skeldon names his six men. He lists their credentials, and analyzes the attributes opposing players bring, that might determine the side that leave Murrayfield as victors, and chasing the 2021 Championship title.

Justin Tipuric vs Hamish Watson

The superlatives to describe Tipuric’s performances are running low. He was immense against Ireland. His attacking midfield partnership with his backrow counterpart, Taulupe Faletau has kicked on since their explosive display against Italy last autumn and they looked dangerous again together last weekend. Tipuric showed his clever running angles and deft hands to unleash Louis Rees-Zammit in the opening quarter. But it was in defence where he really shone. He racked up his 29th tackle of the match in the 84th minute and it was the best of the lot.

Jamieson Gibson Park’s quick hands sent Garry Ringrose scampering down the blindside and clear of the Welsh defence. Momentarily, it looked as if he was away and couldn’t be caught but, seemingly out of nowhere, the tireless Tipuric sprinted 30 metres across the pitch to Ringrose and scythed him down and slowed down the following ruck which saved the day for the Welsh. It was a titanic test match for the ever-impressive Tipuric.

Garry Ringrose of Ireland takes on Justin Tipuric during the Guinness Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at Principality Stadium (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Several hours later in a soaking wet Twickenham, Edinburgh openside Hamish Watson (see main photo) underlined his credentials as a top, top seven. He was the explosive and abrasive carrier we have become so used to seeing. He also put in a big shift in defence and made the second most tackles of any Scottish player, the highlight being his massive hit he handed out to Elliot Daly in the 69th minute. His all-round performance was capped off by his game-winning intervention in the last kick of the game.

In the dying stages of the match, after a Courtney Lawes carry, Watson noticed the split second at the breakdown where the ball was exposed and he latched onto the ball, despite the best efforts of Hill and Curry. After stealing the ball, he then wheels out of the ruck and pelts the ball into the stands. It was a timely conclusion to his outstanding individual display.

The matchup between these two has all the makings of being the one of the clashes of the Six Nations. Arguably, these are the two premier opensides in world rugby and a big performance from them both will go a long way in securing a win for their sides.

Owen Watkin vs Chris Harris

This weekend, there will be a six-foot-four, one hundred plus kilo, George North shaped hole in the Welsh midfield. North hitting top gear again in a Welsh shirt has been a huge boost for the Welsh team and he will be missed on what would have been his 100th cap. That being said, Owen Watkin is more than capable of a top-class international performance at test level.

Fans haven’t quite seen the best from Watkin in a Welsh shirt yet, but he is a classy operator with a gain-line breaking ability that will be useful in breaking down the impressive, Steve Tandy coordinated Scottish defence.

Chris Harris is another who is due a big performance. His midfield counterpart, Cameron Redpath grabbed the plaudits last weekend on debut but [for many] it was the ‘nuts and bolts’ player that knitted the Scottish backline together. He looked solid in defence against, admittedly, a fairly docile English attack. He will most likely face a tougher test weekend against Wales’ strike runners but the Gloucester player can certainly find his way over the goal line.

It will be interesting to see how Wales can adapt without North in the centres? And whether Harris can kick on from an assured outing last weekend at Twickenham.

Louis Rees-Zammit vs Duhan Van Der Merwe

The clash between these two is set to be a mouth-watering one. They are two of the most promising talents in the Six Nations, and both shone in the opening round.

The Gloucester man, Rees-Zammit looked more than comfortable in defence for Wales and contributed to nullifying Ireland’s live wire, James Lowe. He looks bigger, stronger, and more physical since his introduction to international rugby. His acrobatic finish in the second half showed that he is one of the most athletically gifted players Wales has seen in recent years.

Louis Rees-Zammit of Wales touches down during the Guinness Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

His acceleration from a standing start when he received Halfpenny’s pass was freakish and his finish in the corner showed the dexterity and presence of mind of a 50 capped winger. You sense that he will only get better, as well.

Opposing him, Rees Zammit will have his hands full when he lines up opposite Duhan Van Der Merwe. The man from Edinburgh is devastating with ball in hand. He has been tearing up defences this season in the PRO14 and he translated this form onto the international stage last weekend. He got on the end of George Turner’s pass and bumped off the tackles of Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell and rode two more to finish what proved to be the defining score of the game.

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In reality, the game is played by 30 men (plus subs) but you might find that one of these six men could direct the course of the game.

Guinness Six Nations: Round Two – Scotland vs Wales, Murrayfield

 

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