Wales and Scotland open this season’s NatWest 6 Nations Championship when they meet at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some of the talking points heading into the game.
Can both sides shrug off crippling injury situations?
Injuries have dominated the build-up to this season’s tournament, with all countries having their fair share, but Wales must wonder what they have done to upset the rugby Gods. They go into the Scotland clash without nine senior internationals – Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar, Dan Lydiate, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Rhys Priestland and Jake Ball – with seven of those players being British and Irish Lions. Scotland, meanwhile, have seen their front-row resources decimated, with experienced lock Richie Gray being another notable absentee. Wales boss Warren Gatland and his opposite number Gregor Townsend know there is little they can do about it, and it is now a chance for others to step up.
Will Scotland overcome their away-day blues?
The Scots are making considerable strides under new head coach Townsend, which was underlined during an outstanding autumn campaign when they crushed Australia and pushed world champions New Zealand close. But their form away from Murrayfield, especially in the Six Nations, has been consistently poor. Of 45 previous away games in the tournament, Scotland have won just six, with four of those victories being against annual strugglers Italy. They have not beaten Wales in Cardiff since 2002, and while current form potentially favours Townsend’s team this weekend, their results on the road do not generate optimism.
Wales’ dose of Scarlets fever
Injuries have forced Gatland’s selection hand in some areas, yet the inclusion of 10 Scarlets players in his starting line-up reflects their position as the dominant Welsh region. Last season’s Guinness PRO12 title winners, and European Champions Cup quarter-finalists this term, they play a thrilling brand of adventurous, attack-minded rugby that has won many admirers and could easily permeate Wales’ performance on Saturday. Gatland picked 13 players from the Ospreys for his first match in charge against England at Twickenham 10 years ago – and Wales triumphed 26-19.
Are Wales and Scotland only leading the race for third place?
If the bookmakers are to be believed, then there is not a lot of point in anyone else turning up. It’s just a case of fast-forwarding to a touted Six Nations title decider between England and Ireland at Twickenham on March 17. Sport, of course, is nowhere near that predictable, and there is no doubt that Wales and Scotland possess a capability to upset the apple cart. Wales go to Twickenham in eight days’ time, then Dublin a fortnight later, while Scotland face an eagerly-awaited Calcutta Cup clash against England in Edinburgh on February 24. The odds do not favour either country, but do not rule out one – or both – from making some major statements.
Will Warren Gatland enjoy his 10th anniversary?
It is 10 years ago on Friday that New Zealander Gatland took charge of his first Test match as Wales head coach – a thrilling comeback victory over England at Twickenham – since when he has led them to Six Nations titles, Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final appearance in 2011. He is about to launch his penultimate Six Nations campaign at the helm before stepping down after the 2019 World Cup, and he knows a winning start is essential for his team’s title prospects, given that their next two games are away against England and Ireland. Gatland will reach 100 Tests as Wales boss later this month.