Wales are a “better second half team” so Vern Cotter has switched around two of his key replacements to start Saturday’s key Six Nations clash at Murrayfield.
Hamish Watson had been a stand-out in both tests so far but Cotter has dropped him to the bench to use his energy in the later going with John Hardie making his first start since the first test of the Japan tour in the summer.
Similarly, Cotter wants Gordon Reid and an all-Glasgow front row – which has been going solidly against all-comers in European games – foe the first part of the game against the Welsh, with Allan Dell bringing his mobility for the latter stages.
Cotter’s hand has been forced with three other changes, one fairly seamless with Ryan Wilson returning at No 8 for Josh Strauss, a position he’s filled in the majority of games in the past year when fit.
Ali Price is preferred to Henry Pyrgos as the cover for Greig Laidlaw, while Tim Visser comes in for Sean Maitland, who picked up a rib injury when he went back to play for Saracens last weekend.
“We always knew that we’d go through the first two Test matches and then take stock, and the game against Ireland we had one change because of injury.
“It was an opportunity to look at things, but also look at Wales. Not having Straussy as a ball-carrying option was taken into consideration. But we’re just really mixing and matching to try and get the right blend.
“Looking at Wales as a profile, they have been a better second half team up until now. So the bench has been very important to us, we have people will different profiles on the bench.”
Cotter said that Scotland had scrummed “more than 100” times and he believes that they can put Wales under pressure here, rather than the Scots being under pressure themselves as in the first two games.
“We were disappointed with our performance against France,” he said. “We felt we could have played better and weren’t particularly accurate at times.
“The most important thing is that the scrums where we have had to dig in, we have done all right. We did that under the posts against both Ireland and France where the scrum didn’t move at all.
“We don’t believe we have an inferior scrum. It maybe lacks a little experience, but these guys are making up for that with the work they’re putting in. We are very confident the scrum will perform this weekend and put Wales under pressure.”
Wales have not lost to Scotland in 10 years, but apart from the outlier of the game three years ago when Stuart Hogg’s sending-off resulted in a landslide in Cardiff, the games have been pretty close.
“The last two games have been pretty competitive against them,” added Cotter. “We know we need to play better than we did last time – we were really disappointed with our game against Wales last year in the Six Nations.
“I think for 65 minutes we played well, and then a lapse of concentration and an error and the game turned very quickly. It’s just being as determined and as accurate as we can be.”
Cotter doesn’t feel that Scotland have anything to prove about their strength in depth, but recognises the challenge this season has been.
“We look at what happened with WP Nel and Al Dickinson as well as Duncan Taylor. You look at the injuries we had in Paris with Grieg and Josh and four different HIA’s, then the difficulties we had at the start of the week but there’s real confidence in the group.
“There are injured players no longer with us but there is still a really positive desire to do well.
“It’s a home game against Wales who we’ve run close the last couple of times and we want to tip them over this time.
“There is that desire to get better and the excitement of playing at home against a very good team. If we focus on every part of that game as it turns up and do our best in it and remain focused, we’ll give ourselves a pretty good chance.”
Scotland team: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Tim Visser; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson; Richie Gray, Jonny Gray; John Barclay (capt), John Hardie, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Ross Ford, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Tim Swinson, Hamish Watson, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Weir, Mark Bennett.