Grand Slam chasing Wales aim to sidestep domestic chaos against Scotland


Edinburgh (AFP)

Warren Gatland will be protecting an 18-year unbeaten personal record against Scotland when he bids to emerge from a week of turmoil in Welsh rugby by moving within one step of an historic Grand Slam hat-trick at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Wales were beaten 29-13 in Edinburgh two years ago but that was when Gatland, the mastermind of their current all-time record run of 12 successive victories, was on a sabbatical as coach of the British and Irish Lions, with Rob Howley in temporary charge.

Following wins against France, Italy and England, Gatland is on course to emulate his Grand Slam successes of 2008 and 2012 in his final season with Wales.

No coach has ever achieved three clean sweeps in the Five or Six Nations Championship, with the native New Zealander currently level on two with Wales's John Dawes, England's Geoff Cooke and France's Jacques Fouroux, Jean-Claude Skrela and Bernard Laporte.

In his 12 seasons in charge of Wales, Gatland has won all ten of the matches he has contested against Scotland.

He last suffered defeat against the Scots in his final year in charge of Ireland -- a 32-10 loss at Murrayfield in September 2001.

A potential Grand Slam clincher awaits his current in-form Wales side against Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday week if they can maintain the winning form they launched with a home victory against Italy on March 11 last year and which gathered momentum with their stunning 21-13 success against England in Cardiff two weeks ago.

Wales have not lost since a 37-27 reverse against Ireland in Dublin on February 24 last year.

Scotland, by contrast, will kick-off on Saturday following back-to-back defeats at home to Ireland and away to France.

But any threat of complacency may have been removed by a week of wrangling in Welsh rugby, with Gatland admitting his players had been "distracted" by failed attempts to merge the Ospreys and Scarlets.

Of Gatland's 23-man squad, 13 are employed by the two regional franchises, who insisted on Wednesday the proposed deal had been scrapped.

- Price is right -

Against that turbulent background, Gatland has made just the one enforced change to his starting XV, with Ospreys lock Adam Beard replacing the injured Cory Hill.

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, speaking at Murrayfield on Friday, said: "Obviously, we want a few more answers after the Six Nations, but we've got a job to get on with."

Scotland have been bolstered by the return from injury of two key players in fly-half Finn Russell and tighthead prop Willem Nel.

And Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has gone even further following a lacklustre 27-10 defeat against France by dropping captain Greig Laidlaw to the bench, with Glasgow's Ali Price stepping up to the starting scrum-half berth.

Hooker Stuart McInally will lead the side.

Pete Horne moves from fly-half to inside centre, with Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham making his first start, in place of the injured Sean Maitland.

"We had two weeks to reflect on why things didn't work over in France. We looked at every position, and we also reflected on the fact we're out of the Championship," said Townsend.

Price had a miserable time when he started against Wales in place of Laidlaw during last year's Six Nations, gifting the Welsh their opening two tries as the Scots lost 21-10 in Cardiff.

But former Scotland playmaker Townsend added: "I believe he (Price) is more resilient after last year.

"He didn't play as well for club and country during this period but physically he is in good shape, and we have seen a step up in his form for Glasgow since November."