Can Barclay lead Scotland to Welsh win?

Italy v Scotland - RBS Six Nations

In the absence of injured captain Greig Laidlaw, Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has turned to experienced back row forward John Barclay to lead the team against Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday. And it is the back row where one of the most important battles will be fought. The Welsh trio of former captain Sam Warburton, dynamic Justin Tipuric and powerful Ross Moriarty were immense against England two weeks ago. Moriarty is only 22 and already looks the part on the highest stage, while his two colleagues are experienced, strong, fit and brilliant at the breakdown.

In John Hardie and Barclay Scotland have two similar players to Tipuric and Warburton so breakdown dominance might come down to who wants it more on the day. There is little doubt Wales were able to raise their performance against England purely because it was England, but now they know how it wouldn’t be surprising to see a repeat of that wonderful commitment. Ryan Wilson plays number 8 for Scotland and he may have to produce the game of his life to compete with Moriarty, who was rampant in defence and attack in that Cardiff showdown.

But when Barclay has not got his head stuck in the bottom of the breakdown what else will he have to think about to secure home victory? The home side must aim for parity at least in the scrum, which should be achievable with Gordon Reid earning a starting place at loosehead prop, and Allan Dell dropping to the bench. Cotter clearly believes Reid is stronger in the scrum so the player will have to prove him right, until Dell comes on to demonstrate his superior all round game. The lineout should never be a problem for Scotland with the Gray brothers around, but they must concentrate to ensure it delivers the quality ball necessary to win a tight Six Nations test match.

Both sets of backs look well matched, with plenty of strong runners and sleek handlers ready to expose any gaps which appear when the legs start to tire. So, as England have already displayed twice this term, defence may be the key. Each and every player must make all their tackles, because both teams have too much finishing class to miss out on many opportunities. To name a few, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams, George North, Stuart Hogg, Huw Jones and Tommy Seymour are all dangerous in different ways, so don’t take your eyes off this one. It’s all set for another Six Nations humdinger.


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