Graham Henry famously had the shock of his life on the morning of his first Six Nations game as Wales head coach.
“When you’ve been through the Super 12 and NPC mill several times, you think you’re pretty worldly in a rugby context, but Edinburgh in February was a huge learning curve for me, a time of discovery,” he later wrote in his book, The X factor.
“This wasn’t just about 15 against 15 on the field. This was nation against nation.
“Half the population of Wales seemed to be on Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare, Princes Street, on the morning of the game.”
Sadly, it won’t be like that on Saturday, the coronavirus pandemic having seen to that, with spectators not allowed and travel permitted for essential purposes only — a boozy weekend watching the rugby not falling within the criteria drawn up by the rule makers.
Nor is it likely that the head coach will be required to ride pillion on a police motorcycle an hour or so before kick-off to bomb back to the team hotel to collect his star player’s gumshield, as Clive Rowlands did for Gareth Edwards before the classic encounter in the Scottish capital in 1971.
There again, anything’s possible when Scotland and Wales clash at Murrayfield.
Here’s how the two teams compare this weekend…
Stuart Hogg 8 v 7 Leigh Halfpenny
The key when opposing Scotland’s full-back is to put him under pressure and test his defence, with Hogg known to miss the odd tackle.
But he is in form. Against England he ran well from the back and came up with some pinpoint kicking out of hand, securing his side good field positions.
Halfpenny would tackle a runaway bison if such a deed moved Wales a millimetre closer to victory. He also reads play intelligently. Could he offer more with ball in hand? Yes. But on his day he can still be a major influence.
Darcy Graham 7 v 7 Liam Williams
Graham’s childhood hero was Shane Williams — “he’s pretty much the same build as me and had amazing skills” — and the Melrose-born player is himself an elusive player who has pace and a step.
A higher mark would usually come the way of Williams, but he’s short of rugby, with injuries and a suspension meaning he’s played just seven times since the World Cup. When he’s at his best, he’s a game-breaker.
Chris Harris 6 v 6 Owen Watkin
Harris runs hard and keeps defences honest. He is also a strong defender.
He isn’t weighed down by X-factor, though.
It’s a big opportunity for Watkin.
He’s solid and doesn’t make many mistakes, but at Test level he’s kept his attacking skills under wraps. If he reveals them at Murrayfield, it would be a huge plus for Wales.
James Lang 6 v 6 Nick Tompkins
Lang could have been lining up for Wales rather than opposing them, with his father hailing from Penarth. Junior spent three seasons with RGC 1404 but, despite looking a cut above, ended up at Harlequins rather than with a region. He can miss tackles but had a decent game against Wales in the autumn.
Tompkins did more right than wrong off the bench against Ireland. If there are still a few rough edges in his game, he doesn’t shirk work and he can come up with key moments.
Duhan van der Merwe 8 v 7 Louis Rees-Zammit
The hulking Scottish left wing’s Twitter bio contains the line “making the rest of my life the best of my life”.
Wales won’t want to buy into that particular aspiration until after 7pm on Saturday evening at the earliest.
But the 6ft 4in, 16st 10lb van der Merwe is a handful. He scatters defenders, scores tries and is seen as a potential Lion.
How Rees-Zammit copes with him will be fascinating.
The youngster did an excellent marking job on James Lowe last weekend and Wales will want him to close down van der Merwe’s space.
If he’s wise, van the Merwe will be alert himself, mind, with Rees-Zammit himself a natural born finisher. If Scotland give him quarter of a chance he will take it.
Finn Russell 8 v 7 Dan Biggar
A clash of styles.
Russell is an entertainer, a player who likes to take risks and express himself. Against England a week ago he clearly worried a defence that isn’t used to being worried, running from behind his own line at one point.
His game wasn’t without errors, though, and Wales will want to put him under pressure because he is key for the hosts. Ruffle him, ruffle Scotland.
By contrast, Biggar had next to no platform against Ireland. He isn’t as creative as Russell, but he’s a battler who never gives in and a good game-manager. He’ll hope for more ball to show what he can do in attack this weekend.
This battle could have significant influence on Lions selection later this year.
Ali Price 6 v 6 Gareth Davies
Two players who’ll have points to prove.
Price would have been seeing Maro Itoje in his sleep last Saturday night after being charged down repeatedly by the England lock. There were other mistakes in the Scot’s game, too, even if he tried to play with tempo.
There’s a reasonable chance Wayne Pivac has calmed down after Davies’ decision to kick the ball away to Ireland in the final seconds, but Wales’ head coach would doubtless have needed multiple sessions of Zen therapy to do so.
Davies’ game-management will be under scrutiny from the start this weekend. On a good day, the Scarlet can hurt opponents with his pace, but he needs to get his decision-making right.
Rory Sutherland 8 v 7 Tomas Francis
A good contest here. Sutherland is seen as a rival to Mako Vunipola for a Lions Test spot and his reputation wasn’t undermined by anything he did against England. He scrummaged well and has helped improve the Scottish set-piece no end since his recall to the side last year.
Let’s see how it goes this time.
Francis’ effort against Ireland went largely unsung. He not only anchored the Welsh scrum impressively but also put in 19 tackles. In case anyone’s wondering, that’s an extraordinary tally for a tight-head prop.
George Turner 6 v 7 Ken Owens
These two were the best hookers on display in round one.
Turner didn’t miss with a single line-out throw and was busy around the field. Owens may have hit the odd problem with his darts but he was immense in other respects, piling up 20 tackles and carrying with venom.
Can Wales’ No. 2 locate his set-piece accuracy? So much depends on it.
Zander Fagerson 7 v 7 Wyn Jones
Another key battle, with Fagerson’s stock improving by the game and Jones man of the match for Wales last time out.
What particularly impressed about Jones last Sunday was his willingness to take the fight to the opposition with purposeful carrying and solid tackling. He also achieved a turnover.
Another good performance would boost his chances of a place on the Lions tour. But Fagerson will be a good test.
Scott Cummings 6 v 6 Adam Beard
Cummings has established himself at the heart of Scotland’s pack and was their number one line-out target against England, doing a fine job.
No-one should be surprised at Wales’ ongoing problems in the throwing, catching and jumping game, with four different hookers and four different lock pairings over their last four games.
Beard is 6ft 8in and a capable jumper. He’s also a solid defender who works hard around the field. But he needs to transfer his regional form to the Test stage.
Jonny Gray 8 v 8 Alun Wyn Jones
Two talismanic figures, both outstanding on the opening Six Nations weekend. The way Gray tore into England was a sight to behold. A stat released by Opta this week revealed that the Scot has a tackle success rate of 98 percent in the Six Nations (439/449), the best rate of the 243 players to make 100 or more hits in the competition’s history.
In the past, there have been suggestions his game lacked fire, but last week there was a conflagration pretty much every time he was involved.
This weekend, he’s up against Alun Wyn Jones, however.
The Welsh captain was inspirational around the field against Ireland, back to his 2019 best. Wales will need him operating at that level again.
Blade Thomson 6 v 6 Aaron Wainwright
Two players coming in for others.
Thomson is athletic and can pose a breakdown threat, something Wales will need to be wary of, while Wainwright gets a chance because of injuries to Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi and Josh Macleod.
On his game, the Welshman can make a lot of ground with ball in hand and defend solidly, but so can Thomson.
Hamish Watson 8 v 9 Justin Tipuric
It was once said that every five to 10 years boxing sees the fight of the century.
Hype, hype, hooray.
But there’s every chance this contest between the opensides will live up to its must-see billing.
Watson is a fierce breakdown operator who can not only tackle but also carry powerfully, with his ability to bounce off would-be defenders making him difficult to bring down.
Tipuric is a master organiser in defence and a wonderfully skilled player in attack. His breakdown work can be exceptional, too. When he’s beaten in defence at any point in a game — a rarity, thankfully for Wayne Pivac — Wales know they have problems.
Matt Fagerson 7 v 8 Taulupe Faletau
Fagerson performed strongly against England in attack and defence, but Faletau on his game is a world-class player capable of dominating matches. He was part of an excellent Welsh back row last weekend.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk