Both Scotland and Ireland provide big but not insurmountable hurdles in Wales’ tilt at the Six Nations title.
Scotland although not in fantastic form have some good backs who can do damage, especially with the home crowd behind them.
In recent times the Scottish domestic game has improved. Evidence of this is supplied by Edinburgh & Glasgow taking their place in the European Champions Cup quarter finals this year.
Scotland are missing Huw Jones at centre, who has a good try scoring record but can look to the creative Finn Russell (a current fitness doubt) as grounds for optimism. The Wales game is too early for their speedster at full back, Stuart Hogg to come back from his knock.
There are fitness concerns in the pack too but Scotland will be boosted by the return of WP Nel and potentially Hamish Watson.
The issue Scotland have is they haven’t developed a winning habit. However don’t discount a side that were only a whisker away from a World Cup semi final in 2015. That may be some time ago but the Scots know how to put in a performance. More recently in 2017, at Murrayfield, Wales were dispatched in this fixture.
In the next game against Ireland, Wales will have the home advantage but are facing a superior side to the Scots. There is a bit more edge in this game than in days gone by. Anyone remember Mike Phillips’ try that shouldn’t have been in 2011?
Ireland haven’t been at their best in this year’s Six Nations. Since losing to England though, they have ground out two consecutive victories against Scotland and Italy. Their side is full of good players and their domestic game is in rude health & has been for quite some time.
There will be a lot riding on the clash between these Celtic nations on the last weekend of the Championship. Even more so if Wales do beat Scotland & Ireland overcome France.
If someone were to ask me as a fan, “Which would you prefer between a Grand Slam or a strong World Cup run?” It would be a World Cup run (reaching the final and going one better than Wales did in 2011). I realise that doing well in both is not mutually exclusive but I think Wales’ focus should be on September’s World Cup.
The Six Nations is a special tournament rich in history but Warren Gatland has already proved himself at this level. Wales had a great 2011 World Cup but a strong 2019 competition would be a fitting send off for him.
Joe Schmidt is in a similar position. He has proved himself domestically and internationally and will step down after the World Cup. A strong showing in Japan in the autumn and he will have cemented himself as one of the best.
To conclude, if Wales come away without a Grand Slam would be fine as long as they have a good World Cup. Another Slam but a poor World Cup and it will have been a slightly disappointing end to what has been a successful tenure for Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley.