Wales vs Scotland: Dan Biggar set for 100th Test appearance

Scotland likely to have lineout dominance but Wales have picked breakdown threats

Some teams carry the added pressure that comes with expectation like a tailored jacket slung over a relaxed shoulder. For others, anticipation of glories to come chafe like a pair of skinny jeans in early January.

Wales and Scotland both fall into the latter category. These two rugby sides, these nations even, prefer to face up to challenges as underdogs. From Owain Glyndwr to William Wallace, the heroes of England’s neighbours are heralded for their willingness to charge into the maw of certain doom in honour of the cause.

Come Saturday, only one group of players will enter the Principality Stadium with the familiar feeling of their backs against the wall. Their opponents have no such luxury. There’s no need to look at what the bookies are saying. Stuart Hogg’s team are unquestionably favourites.

“If you look at last week’s performances why wouldn’t they be?” was Wales’ coach Wayne Pivac’s reply when asked about the disparity in expectations between the two teams. Indeed. Scotland’s win over England, although scrappy and perhaps lucky, was another major victory in a 12-month period that has also seen them win in London and Paris, as well as beat Australia and Japan at home.


Such is the depth in Scottish rugby right now that Gregor Townsend could make five changes to the 15 that secured a second successive Calcutta Cup – including his entire frontrow – without setting off any alarm bells.

Wales are traversing a different path. An injury to Josh Adams has further tested the squad’s resources and means Pivac is now without 659 Tests’ worth of experience from eight absentees alone. Their most experienced starting flanker is 22-year-old Taine Basham playing his ninth Test while his partner is the uncapped Jac Morgan, also 22.

Pivac conceded that his loose trio, which includes Ross Moriarty, lacks height. All are shorter than their Scottish counterparts. Pivac is working with the tools he has but is also offering an insight into the way he believes he might pull off a chaotic upset.

Scotland’s lineout was imperious last week, procuring clean ball from all 16 of their throw-ins. Pivac will therefore look to turn possession at the breakdown by unleashing two natural opensiders and a No 8 who likes it loose. Townsend all but relinquished the battle on the ground. “We don’t look at jackaling as something that is always required,” the Scotland coach said.

If Wales are to disrupt Scotland’s rumbling pack and win the odd penalty then their captain Dan Biggar will need to be at his best, particularly with that metronomic right boot. Described as the team’s “general” and “one of the best goal kickers in the world” by his coach, Biggar will make his 100th Test appearance in front of a packed crowd.

“We’re looking for a reaction,” Biggar said, eager to move the conversation away from the 29-7 loss to Ireland. “We’re looking to stifle the momentum they’ve built up.

“But there’s a bit of pressure on them. They’ve been talked up and they have to go and try win a championship from what I’m hearing. So let’s see how they go and we’ll judge them at the end of it.”

Biggar praised his opposite number, Finn Russell, emphasising his ability to methodically control a game as well as produce magical moments with deft cross-field kicks and covert passes. But both Pivac and his captain spoke of the psychological boost a partisan home crowd gives them. Even Hogg was gushing in his praise of Cardiff’s mighty arena in the centre of the city. The Scots won in Llanelli in 2020 but they’re winless in the capital since 2002. And though he finds himself in a difficult situation now, Biggar knows that a single game can shift the discourse.

“History tells us when we have a poor performance we tend to respond quite well,” he said, referencing a rousing 30-10 win over France at home in 2014 immediately after a 26-3 loss away to Ireland. “We’re under no illusions and not papering over any cracks. It’s nothing new, responding to a tough performance. This time of the year all the experts come out and have all the answers. We’re keeping everything in-house and making sure we respond in the best way possible and that’s by fronting up against a team that is full of confidence.”

Given the nature of the two nations represented, that may hand the advantage back to Wales.

– Guardian