They temporarily left behind the distraction and uncertainty and chaos of Welsh plans to overhaul their four struggling regional clubs. A merger of Ospreys and Scarlets was scrapped this week and a bitter fallout ensued. From those clubs, 13 of Wales' matchday 23 will face the Scots. The players described the situation as deeply worrying for their livelihoods, the timing as terrible, and the furor taking a massive toll as little has been resolved.
Still, the national team and coach Warren Gatland believe the turmoil won't put them off course on Saturday at Murrayfield in their ongoing hunt for a first Six Nations crown since 2013. "Something very special" is brewing, says Gatland, who has faith the players will put the disorder behind them and concentrate on making more history. Wales is on a record run of 12 wins. Gatland claims they have forgotten how to lose. Twice in their three Six Nations matches, they have won from behind, against France and England.
Ken Owens, the Wales and Scarlets hooker, says the politics has angered the players, and warns, "It will bring us closer together and hopefully we will take our frustrations out on Saturday." Center Jonathan Davies also has reassuring words for Welsh fans.
"The squad is very tight. We've got momentum, and we are making sure we keep that," Davies says. "The squad is reacting well to the expectancy of winning games, and that's a good place to be. I guarantee you this Welsh team is going up there focused and getting the result on Saturday."
Owens and Davies are among the veteran leadership, including forwards Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric, and backs George North, Liam Williams, and Dan Biggar, who are driving the side to maintain standards, shrug off adversity, and prevail against another so-so Scotland side.
Plus, Ospreys players — the likes of Wales captain Jones, Tipuric, and North — already proved their resilience when they were made aware before the England test that their club, the most successful in Wales in the professional era, was folding, then went out and overcame the favored English two weeks ago in Cardiff.
The disarray at club level has only worsened since then, giving Scotland a flicker of hope. And the Scots desperately need hope after wasting matches against Ireland and France, two teams short on confidence. Their first consecutive defeats in three years have ended the Scots' latest title ambitions, and showed up a lack of depth, composure, accuracy, and even desire. Despite a long injury list, the Scots believed they could win in Paris for the first time in 20 years. But they were not even competitive. They were pitiful.
Coach Gregor Townsend reacted by dropping Greig Laidlaw, their captain, scrumhalf, goalkicker, and most experienced player. Laidlaw's replacement at scrumhalf, Ali Price, says the team can resurrect their confidence in the last two games against title contenders Wales and England, and resurrect momentum for the Rugby World Cup this year.
Willem Nel, Finn Russell, and Hamish Watson have returned from injuries to shore up the Scots who, for the last two and a bit matches, have been their own worst enemies. Talk of ambushing Wales only works if Wales comes complacent and overconfident. But that's unlikely. Wales wants to win too much, and the chance at history is prized.
Gatland is also the overseer. As Wales coach, he's 10-0 against Scotland. The one time they lost, in 2017 at Murrayfield, Gatland was on Lions duty and Rob Howley was in charge. "The maturity in the team, not panicking and having that belief that they can come through and win a game, that's been massive," Gatland says. "I don't see any fear in their eyes."
Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Pete Horne, Darcy Graham, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Josh Strauss, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Willem Nel, Stuart McInally (captain), Allan Dell. Reserves: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Hamish Watson, Greig Laidlaw, Adam Hastings, Byron McGuigan.
Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Adam Beard, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens, Rob Evans. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin.
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