Once again Scotland go into Six Nations rugby action with a desperate need to avoid falling foul of the record books – for all the claims of “progress” within the squad.
There are incentives abound against Wales in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, and not least doubling the tally of campaign wins after that narrow one in Italy.
Less obvious is the fact that were coach Scott Johnson’s team to lose – heaven forbid – it would be the first time in exactly 100 years that they have gone down in seven consecutive meetings with the Welsh.
Adding to inevitable discomfort will be the revelation that any Scottish win would be the first example of them having back-to-back away successes in the Six Nations; by comparison Wales haven’t lost two in-a-row for four years.
So much for the statistics, and maybe just as well.
Second row Richie Gray, however, believes that a road to salvation might lie in the fact Wales have had one less day to recover and prepare.
“Obviously they had a Sunday game [against England] so it is a six-day turnaround. That will be difficult. Six-day turnarounds in internationals are difficult. Maybe we can take advantage of that, but I am [still] fully expecting a very fast physical game as you always get with the Welsh.”
A few minutes in the company of Gray can be taken as a panacea for the agony of losing to a last-minute French penalty, as the reasons to believe pour out.
Well, there is the possibility of some fatigue in the Welsh ranks on account of so many spending last summer with the Lions on tour, something Gray was a flag-bearer on as the only Scot to be given a bit of game-time at Test level.
Not only that, there is insight available through being up close with the Wales/Lions coach, Warren Gatland.
“From being on the tour you see how these guys work, Gray continued. “With Gatland being head coach and Rob Howley attack/backs coach you get an insight into how they are going to play. We will be feeding that back in. It is about concentrating on us and getting that part right, but we will have a certain idea about them.”
This will be Scotland’s last encounter before facing the US Eagles on June 7 and No.8 Dave Denton appreciates that a winning finale would go some way to erasing memories such as being the first team “nilled” in a decade of Championship matches when England won 20-0 at Murrayfield.
“Leave ’em laughing” is the old showbiz mantra for stage acts and the sporting adaptation means ending the league on a high.
“It’s the last game so we’ll throw the kitchen sink in,” the Edinburgh back row said. “Not that we have not been doing it before, but we are going in to give it everything.
“It’s a great opportunity to go into their back yard and put one over on them.
“It’ll be us against the whole of Wales, [but] after Dunky [Duncan Weir] slotted that drop goal against Italy, you could sense that although it didn’t wipe out the memory of two previous defeats, it did prove we were capable of competing against these kind of sides. A win to finish off would be brilliant. It would be great for the squad and for the perception of us.”
To succeed, Scotland will, under the eye of referee Jerome Garces, have to drastically reduce the penalty count against them, while maintaining an ability to out-perform all rivals when it comes to winning turnover possession.
“It has been very frustrating [to be heavily penalised],” continued Denton. “We have just found ourselves on the wrong side of that line. We need to be careful that what we are doing is legal. Watch the way Ireland are playing. They are a very good example of being on right side of that line.
“What they are actually doing is hard to see. What we are doing is being scrutinised. We have to be extra careful. We are getting penalised quite harshly in some cases, but you earn your own reputation.
“For us to come forward as a team that refs give a bit of leniency to you, well, you only get that through being outstanding in certain areas. If refs start seeing us as a dominant scrum, for example, they are not going to ping against us. We have to earn that.”
Denton also admits that it has been hard to shake off trauma attached to making all the running against France before being overtaken at the death.
“It’s been tough few days and it’s taken a while for the emotional side to wear off,” he admitted, “but it is time to look to forward to the Welsh game and take a lot of positives from France. In particular, what we did in scrums and line-outs and finishing in the backs.
“There are areas we can look at in terms of closing the game out, but with the stadium roof closed it will be a great opportunity to play rugby. It’s going to be a great game, but not for the legs and lungs maybe.”
The only Scot to score a try in the past three meetings with Wales (during which the opposition have amassed eight) is Greig Laidlaw, who will be driven by the need to exorcise that one-that-got-away feeling last time.
Comparing the French match to the one against England, Laidlaw said: “When you play well and don’t win it is sometimes harder to take. After a good week’s training we are looking to avenge the French game.”
Laidlaw will go head-to-head with Mike Phillips, who, at 6ft 4in and 16st 7lb, is seven inches taller and more than four stones heavier. It was, however, Laidlaw who used his guile to snatch that previous Scots try in the fixture by burrowing for the line at close range. Typically he plays down the disparity in size, saying: “It’s more about the back rows and how our forwards play. If the forwards do their bit right it makes my job easier.
“Mike Phillips is a good player, though, an exception to the rule and slightly different from what is perceived to be the normal scrum half.”
For all his physique, Phillips has always been well contained by Scotland, with none of his ten Test tries coming in the fixture and similar diligence will be required if a Scotland side, with a new cap in Edinburgh’s Dougie Fife on the wing, are to overcome a Welsh bogey just as they did in 1982 when another winger, Jim Pollock, came in at short notice to earn a debut.
That is a more pleasant stat associated with this fixture. So, can lightning strike twice?