Wales coach Warren Gatland believes Scotland have “the potential to be serious contenders” and said he was “pleased” to see them no longer “filling in the lower positions”.
The two-time Lions chief has never lost to the Scots while in charge of Wales. He had temporarily handed the reins to assistant Rob Howley last year when a decade-long drought against the men in red was ended in Edinburgh.
The coach described a home game against the improving Scots as a good way for his team to open the championship, despite a mounting injury list.
Lions and Saracens back Liam Williams is “unlikely” to face Scotland a week on Saturday as he undergoes rehab on an abdominal injury, following on from the news that stand-off Dan Biggar will miss the first three games of the Six Nations, on top of a number of high-profile absentees such as Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau, Jonathan Davies and Rhys Priestland.
On the test Scotland will present in Cardiff, Gatland said: “The challenge is the way they are playing at the moment. They are playing with high tempo and they have done really well in the last couple of seasons.
“It is a great game to get first up. It’s at home and I think Scotland’s win against Wales (last year) was the first time in ten years. The players will be pretty focused and motivated.
“It’s a game that will really focus the minds in terms of preparation and, hopefully, getting the tournament off to a good start.
“They are going to play with high tempo. We are going to have to be prepared for the unexpected – quick throw-ins, quick taps, moving the ball from behind their own goal line. They have serious running threats in players like Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg. We have to look after them.
“They are a team prepared to take risks. It has been pleasing to see Scotland improve in the last couple of seasons. Potentially, they are serious contenders in the Six Nations. Prior to last season they haven’t been that, filling the lower positions in the table. But I think they are now a serious threat for all the teams. That makes the tournament unpredictable and incredibly exciting as well.”
And yet, when asked to make a prediction on who were favourites, Gatland replied after a few seconds pause: “Wales. I think we’ll win the tournament.”