Warren Gatland was on British and Irish Lions sabbatical, with Rob Howley in caretaker charge, but on Saturday the Kiwi will be looking to maintain his perfect record over the Scots since he took the Wales job in 2007.
Gatland, who will move on after the World Cup later this year, was at Murrayfield two years ago, watching from the stands, and when he appeared on the big screen after the final whistle was roundly jeered by the Scottish crowd. The 55-year-old has become a bit of a pantomime villain north of the Border for his reluctance to pick Scots in his two Lions squads – the 2017 tour to New Zealand marked the first time none played any part in a Test series – and for a few off-the-record digs in the last couple of years.
Gatland has spoken this week of Wales, who are seeking a 13th successive Test win and another Grand Slam, looking to avenge that afternoon when tries by Tommy Seymour and Tim Visser and 19 points from the boot of Finn Russell saw Scotland end a decade-long drought against the men in red.
After defeats by Ireland and France following the opening win over Italy, the Scots are in a tight spot but Dell is adamant that if Wales do make it 13-in-a-row they will have to fight hard for it,
“They are a good side, they’ve shown it,” said the 26-year-old Edinburgh forward who will join London Irish next season. “But the problem is that if they take us lightly, especially with us having lost two games in a row, with the way we lost in France being so disappointing, they’ll obviously be on a high.
“So if they come in thinking about the Grand Slam and thinking about how we played in France, and come in expecting it to be easy, then we can get a good run on them. But Gatland will be pumping them up, he’ll be revving them up saying how physical it’s going to be, about how they need to come to Murrayfield to make a statement. So it’s up to us to focus on our game and make sure we get our things right. We don’t need to worry about them.”
Dell will take the No 1 jersey on the teamsheet when Gregor Townsend names his matchday squad today. From his days at Glasgow the coach has never been afraid of ringing the changes, although the litany of injuries continuing to pile up limit his scope for a drastic clear-out in the wake of that dispiriting flop in Paris.
Not for the first time and, again, somewhat unfairly, skipper Greig Laidlaw has come in for some criticism for his perceived ponderous service, which behind a pack being so utterly dominated at the breakdown seems harsh. Nevertheless it could be that Townsend goes with Ali Price to inject a bit of pace from the get-go on Saturday, with Laidlaw coming on to steady the ship in the latter stages,
That would likely lead to hooker Stuart McInally taking the captaincy, with Russell returning at stand-off following a successful comeback from concussion with his club Racing 92 at the weekend. The foot injury to Sean Maitland, which ruled the Saracens wing out of Saturday’s game, means Edinburgh 21-year-old Darcy Graham looks in line to be handed a first start, third cap and home debut. Townsend added the 6ft Sale wing Byron McGuigan to his squad this week and with Wales renowned for their aerial game it will be a test for the diminutive Graham. However, the Hawick man has worked hard on that aspect of his game and has punched above his size in the air for Edinburgh in some big games this season.
Tighthead WP Nel and openside Hamish Watson will be fast-tracked back into the starting XV after timely recoveries, with a choice to be made at blindside between Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner and Magnus Bradbury.
Dell, meanwhile, insists Scotland will face the in-form Welsh with no fear.
“You respect the opposition. But at the same time you don’t put them on a pedestal,” he said. “Wales have gone those 12 games unbeaten, but we’re not saying, ‘s***, they’re unbeatable’. We’ve seen them lose and we’ve beaten them at club level. At international level we beat them here two years ago
“Thinking back at that game we were very disciplined and controlled on the defensive side of things and that allowed us to win.
“Wales have done well and we will give them the respect they deserve and we will make sure we have our heads on the whole time.
“Gatland’s going about saying their team has forgotten how to lose and all that. So they’re going to be full of confidence. They’ve got a gameplan that has been working for them, clearly, but the biggest thing is that we need to focus on ourselves and get our own gameplan right.
“In the last two games [in Cardiff last year] we haven’t really done that and we’ve lost, so we’re not worried about the prospect of them winning a Grand Slam or us trying to stop them, we’re just going to focus on ourselves and getting our game flowing again so we can get our confidence on the front foot again.”