THE attritional nature of modern Test match rugby was highlighted yesterday lunchtime when both Scotland coach Gregor Townsend and his counterpart in Wales, Wayne Pivac, were forced to make significant changes to their winning teams ahead of this weekend’s Six Nations round two clash at Murrayfield. 

Scotland will be without three of their heroes from last Saturday’s exhilarating win over England at Twickenham. Flanker Jamie Ritchie (who has a hamstring issue) and winger Sean Maitland (Achilles) are expecting to come back into the mix for Scotland’s next game against France away on 28th February, but the prognosis for inside-centre Cameron Redpath, who pushed Stuart Hogg all the way for the man-of-the-match award on his international debut, is not so clear-cut.  

“It’s a neck problem,” explained Townsend. “It’s a neural issue so he was struggling for strength in that area after the game. We didn’t obviously think it was a concern, given how well he had played. As it didn’t improve on Monday or Tuesday, we were coming to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be available. He got scanned yesterday and that gave us evidence to say it was the right decision not to have him involved this weekend.  

“We will just see how quickly he can recover. With neural issues, it’s not as simple as a muscle strain, where you can say it will be okay in a week. We hope he will be back available to play in the rest of the Championship or maybe the last two games, but that will depend on what happens over the next two weeks."

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To fill the gaps left in his starting XV, Townsend has brought in three players who were not involved in the match-day 23 against England – but who all started when Scotland beat Wales in Llanelli last October in their re-arranged 2020 Six Nations match – with Blade Thomson named at blindside flanker, James Lang getting the nod in the centre, and Darcy Graham returning to the wing.  

“With Blade it was really about the blend of the back row,” explained the coach. “Jamie has the line-out presence as well as his all-round game – and Blade brings that, too.  He played really well for us in the autumn and has been playing really well for Scarlets since then. He didn’t play at the weekend so there’s a freshness, and we thought the blend with Blade and Matt was best for this weekend, with Gary Graham having a big role to play off the bench, as he did at Twickenham.  

“We feel James is better placed to play 80 minutes at that high intensity in the centre than Duncan Taylor, who hasn’t had as many games in the last few weeks,” he added. 

“Darcy would have been in the mix too against England, but he’s obviously not played as much rugby in the last few weeks. He’s been really good in training. He’s worked hard in terms of getting on the ball in attack, showing his obvious strengths, but probably the most pleasing highlights have been defensively – he’s really fitted in well with our system, making good decisions there. He’s now into his third week of full training and I think he’ll bring a freshness with his exuberance for getting on the ball and making life difficult for defenders who to try to tackle him.” 

Wales, meanwhile, have picked up seven fresh injuries since this time last week. It was confirmed earlier in the week that flanker Dan Lydiate (ACL/knee), scrum-half Tomos Williams (hamstring), centre Johnny Williams and winger Hallam Amos (both head) would be missing, before yesterday’s team announcement confirmed that George North – who was set to make his 100th appearance in the red jersey – is out with a foot problem, while flankers Josh Navidi and Josh Macleod have neck problem and a ruptured Achilles, respectively. Pivac claimed yesterday that he has 21 potential players missing at the moment. 

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Wales have not really found their groove yet under Pivac (who took over as head coach from Warren Gatland after the 2019 World Cup), finishing fifth in last year’s Six Nations. While Sunday’s 21-16 over Ireland will have lifted morale, it was hardly a vintage performance against a side which played three-quarters of the match with 14 men following Peter O’Mahony’s 13th minute sending off, but Townsend insisted that Scotland are expecting an almighty challenge this weekend.

“We were really impressed,” he claimed, when asked to assess Wales performance against Ireland. “We felt that with the red card it changed the nature of the game and Ireland had a lot of possession, Wales had to make a lot of tackles and showed how tough they were. They had to front up defensively to get that win and show the improvements they’ve made since the autumn.  

“Wales are a quality team, you look at their individual players; players with near to 100 caps, players with well over 100 caps, players that have won Grand Slams and they’ve got some real experience in that pack.  

“There are a number of areas where we could have done things better against England,” he added. “There were tries there that we didn’t take. But the fundamentals put us in a place to get that win so we’ll need to see that again. It’s been a very similar build-up to the England week, in terms of how well the players have trained.  And we’re going to not just back-up our performance but improve on it.”