Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has agreed for the roof to be closed at the Principality Stadium for tomorrow’s RBS Six Nations match against Wales in Cardiff.
Home coach Warren Gatland is always keen to play ‘indoors’ but competition rules, which the Welsh are keen to have changed, currently require both teams to agree to it.
However, in a move welcomed by his compatriot counterpart Gatland, Cotter said he was happy for the roof to be shut as Scotland look to bounce back from last weekend’s opening home 15-9 defeat by England.
After announcing a team which includes just one enforced change from last Saturday’s game – Saracens centre Duncan Taylor coming in for Matt Scott who has an injured quad – Cotter said: “Yes, we’d like it shut.”
When asked for his reasoning, the Kiwi replied drily: “In case it rains.”
Cotter went on to elaborate. “We would like to be able to play the game, we’d like to be able to hang on to the ball,” he said.
“If we can compete on the ground, if it’s a dry ball, a dry track, that suits us. For everything, for the whole day, it’s a more enjoyable day.”
Cotter revealed that Scott had suffered his injury at training on Wednesday. “Matt decelerated and felt something in his thigh,” he said. “He went for a scan and it’s a slight tear.
“Because it’s a slight tear, if this was the last game, we could strap him up and get him to play but we’ve got other games coming up and we’re hoping he’ll be available for Italy.”
As Taylor moves up into the starting XV his place on the bench is taken by cap centurion Sean Lamont. Beyond that, the same squad of players have been given the responsibility of making amends for the Calcutta Cup disappointment.
After slipping to their eighth consecutive Six Nations defeat last weekend the pressure is on Scotland to somehow find a way of halting that desperate run, but facing Wales at home is always a formidable test.
“It’s good to be able to get back and have a game to review and prepare to get better for the next one,” said Cotter ahead of the squad’s departure for the Welsh capital.
“The weather has been a bit better this week so we’ve spent more time on our skills. That’s always nice.
“But, once again, it’s about getting back the combinations that we think will work – the ability to pass to each other without having to speak. That type of thing, it’s important to spend time together.”
Wales fought back from 13-0 down in Dublin last Sunday to earn a 16-16 draw with champions Ireland and Cotter knows tomorrow presents a huge challenge.
He added: “Wales are capable of playing a power game through their forwards, in close with [centre] Jamie Roberts and they can move it wide, as they did against Ireland, with their back players. They can find space after tightening it up with players like Roberts.
“When Roberts starts hitting us, we’ve got to make sure we keep our width and keep our eyes up. We want to be competitive for as long as possible. They are a good team all over, Wales. They’ve made a few changes to their front row and they’ve got a good scrum. But our scrum is looking forward to the challenge.
“If we can gain access anywhere in the game, whether it be scrum, line breaks or whatever, we will try to keep repeating it. But, as you can probably gather, we’d like to put in a decent game, a game we can sit back and say we can build from. I think we can build from our game against England.”
Scotland haven’t tasted victory in Cardiff since 2002. But that actually makes it one of the Scots’ happier hunting grounds when it comes to Six Nations away days.
Taking Rome out of the mix, which may be considered a bit cheeky considering there have been five losses there since 2000, Scotland have gone even longer without wins at the four other away stadiums in the tournament.
There was a famous victory at Dublin’s Croke Park in 2010 but none at Lansdowne Road, where the new Aviva Stadium sits, since 1998; none at the Stade de France since the 1999 Five Nations title-winning season; and, of course, Lamont is the only man in tomorrow’s 23-man squad who was born when a win was last registered at Twickenham back in 1983.
It’s a context Scottish rugby fans are well aware of and reaffirms just how difficult it will be to stop the rot against an experienced Wales team who will be supremely confident of stretching that 14-year unbeaten home run against tomorrow’s opponents.
“With the record, we know it’s a tough ask to go to Wales and win that game. We know that,” said Cotter.
“But within the team there is a real desire – and I think the players have said we’re fed up with bits and pieces that have been thrown at the team.
“We’re going to stick tight and work our way through this. It’s not going to be easy, the Six Nations is not an easy competition, we know that.
“We’ve got to take away the things that make it harder for us – and instead make it harder for the opposition.”
One of the things which must make it harder for Scotland is the constant ramping up of psychological pressure which comes with every defeat in the competition – it’s now eight in a row. “We came last year. Let’s not forget that,” said Cotter. “So we’re looking to improve on that and let’s wait until the end of the competition to see if we have.
“We lost by six points to England, we’re going to play in Wales, where two years ago it was a pretty difficult game [a record 51-3 defeat], I think – we’d like to do better than that.
“And we want to keep improving. We want to be able to get our injured players back on the field and with us as well, because we need everybody.”
With Matt Scott the latest centre to fall prey to injury, Cotter revealed that Glasgow’s Alex Dunbar was looking at another month out which makes it unlikely he will play any part in the tournament.
Cotter can draw on the experience of facing Wales at home last year, when Finn Russell was sin-binned during a 26-23 defeat.
“Once again, it was a yellow card that tipped the game,” said Cotter. “Discipline wise, we only gave away nine penalties last week, England gave away 12. I think there’s an understanding there that, if we can stop making mistakes, it helps.
“They will go to the air and try to make us repeat those mistakes. We’re aware of that, the players have been working hard in training to take balls that are put high up in the sky. There are no guarantees. But we’re trying to perform better with regard to that.”
Performing better in the second half will also be key following a string of post-interval dips in the tournament which have seen points dry up and matches slip away.
“You can put it down to a lot of things,” said Cotter when asked about the trend. “A good team opposite you, a couple of key moments when the ball is lost – momentum shifts.”