For some of the newcomers in the Scotland squad their first in-the-flesh experience of the imposing Principality Stadium will come this afternoon when they head down the tunnel to warm up ahead of the NatWest Six Nations opener.
In a break with the usual routine, coach Gregor Townsend kept the squad in Edinburgh for a final training session before travelling to Wales yesterday afternoon rather than have the traditional ‘Captain’s Run’ at the venue for today’s hotly-anticipated showdown.
The cathedral of Welsh rugby, which will have the roof closed today to add extra frisson to the atmosphere, has not been a happy hunting ground for Scotland, with the last win there coming in 2002.
Defence coach Matt Taylor supports his boss’s decision to go for more of an in and out commando raid approach to today’s task.
“Gregor is a deep thinker who thought about the pros and cons before making the decision,” said the assistant.
“Once you’ve prepared really well, that gives you a confidence. You can’t be second guessing yourselves. The guys like playing at the Principality, despite the record.”
Townsend talked up the importance of Taylor’s area of responsibility earlier in the week but the Scots’ recent style of play has whetted the appetite for what could be delivered this afternoon. Clearly, if that 16-year losing drought is to be broken and Scotland are to announce themselves as genuine title contenders, they are going to have to go at the hosts.
“Listen, a couple of their wingers haven’t got many caps. Even though they’re very good players,” said Taylor, referring to debutant Josh Adams and the five caps of Steff Evans.
“So you can expect us to apply some pressure on those guys. Sometimes you can put pressure on individuals but don’t want to focus on that too much. In regards to where [Wales coach] Warren [Gatland] thinks he can target us, I’m really confident in our forwards. I’m looking forward to seeing how that tussle ends up.”
There is a sense that the free-flowing, high-tempo style Townsend has fostered in the summer and autumn may need to be reined in for the intensity of attritional Six Nations rugby, but Taylor insists that the Scots will look to stray true to their instincts.
“We’ve got our own style of play in how we want to play the game in attack and defence,” said the coach. “We’re not going to change because that was the autumn and now we’re in the Six Nations. We want to play with the ball in hand. We want it to be up-tempo, quick both in attack and defence.
“That’s the type of game that we feel is going to benefit us. We’ll play that in the Six Nations or whenever we play.
“Gregor is a very astute coach. He’s been immersed in Scottish rugby for a long time as a player and now as a coach. The work he did in Glasgow, now with the national team, is going well. We’ve always got to be improving and pushing ourselves. We had good results in the autumn but we need to push on. We’ve had a really good preparation, we’ve trained at tempo, pushed the players physically and mentally. Hopefully the benefits come through tomorrow.”
For all the hope that has been placed on Scotland this year, and the fact Wales will be without a host of big names, doesn’t mean the men in red will be unshackled by pressure today, according to Taylor.
“They live in a goldfish bowl down there. It’s their major sport and they’ve won a fair amount in the past,” he said.
“When things aren’t going as well, it can be tough for them – and their crowds can be tough on them. If we play well, that might happen.”
Taylor is hoping the progress made in defence over the past year will continue in this tournament.
“The Samoa game disappointed me, conceding five tries,” he said. “We defended well against New Zealand and then their sheer brilliance opened us up. We need to get better. I think we’ve prepared really well. I suppose we’ll see in the next two months. We’ve focused really hard on it, done well in training, talked about it well – now we have to do it.
“If we play to our ability and execute really well, we’re up there with the best in the world, as we showed in the autumn. We’re really confident in where we are as a nation. If we do our best in every Test, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to do well in this tournament.”