WARREN Gatland believes there is “a lot at stake” for Wales and Scotland despite both teams being little more than bit-part players on the final day of this season’s RBS Six Nations Championship.
Wales return to the Millennium Stadium tomorrow after seeing their hopes of achieving an unprecedented Six Nations title hat-trick destroyed by England last weekend.
Scotland, meanwhile, have lost three out of their four Six Nations games and last beat Wales in Cardiff 12 years ago.
Wales coach Gatland said of Scotland: “They are gaining a bit of confidence after being under the pump and winning against Italy, and doing reasonably well against France. They will have been disappointed at not winning that game.
“They have asked for the roof to be shut, which is good, and shows they are coming with an attitude to play rugby. They will play through lots of phases, and you have to keep your patience defensively and make sure your discipline is really good. They will come down, play some rugby, be positive and [look to] finish on a high, very much as we do. There is a lot at stake for both teams, and we want to finish the campaign on a high and go into the summer with some confidence.”
Gatland has made six changes from Twickenham, with Ken Owens replacing hooker Richard Hibbard, Rhodri Jones in for prop Adam Jones and fit-again lock Luke Charteris taking over from Jake Ball, while stand-off Dan Biggar, scrum-half Mike Phillips and full-back Liam Williams also start. Williams replaces dislocated shoulder victim Leigh Halfpenny and Phillips returns instead of Rhys Webb, who has an ankle injury. Halfpenny will have surgery on Friday and faces up to four months out. It will be Biggar’s first start of the Six Nations campaign, but his call-up is not a surprise given how poorly Rhys Priestland performed against England.
The demotions of Hibbard and Adam Jones were not as widely expected, but Gatland has decided that he needs to freshen things up after Wales saw their title dream disappear.
“We have identified things we need to improve,” Gatland added. “Some of our kicking strategy was not executed well enough on Sunday, and in terms of counter-attacking more, we wanted to play through phases but there were too many turnovers and we did not keep the ball for long enough periods.
“We have been very honest with ourselves and I am more than happy for people to criticise the way we played. That’s part of us and our role as accepting it, taking it on board and working hard as a group.”
Gatland, meanwhile, saluted Gethin Jenkins as he prepares to become his country’s all-time record cap holder.
Prop Jenkins is the only member of Wales’ starting front row on duty at Twickenham last weekend retained for Scotland’s visit. And the stage is now set for him to win his 105th cap, overtaking former stand-off Stephen Jones at the top of Wales’ appearance chart.
“As a competitor and a warrior, you don’t get anyone tougher than Gethin. He’s desperate to want to win and perform in every game,” said Gatland. “It is a great milestone for him.”