Scotland have announced a second meeting with Wales in Cardiff in 2018 – just two weeks before the teams open the NatWest 6 Nations in the Principality Stadium.
The Scots will travel to Wales on November 3 to contest the “Doddie Weir Cup”, a new trophy to commemorate the former Scotland and British Lions player who is raising funds to fight Motor Neurone Disease.
It’ll be Scotland’s first Autumn Test away from Murrayfield, and with home games against Fiji (November 10), South Africa (November 17) and Argentina (November 24) to follow, means the Scots will play four test matches in November for the first time.
Wales have been playing four games in November for a number of years – and been heavily criticised for playing outside World Rugby’s three-week “international window” – but WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips underlined the series’ importance to them.
“We need four international matches in our autumn calendar in order to provide vital funds for the future sustainability of the game in Wales,” he said.
The WRU have donated the trophy will be played for whenever the teams meet in Cardiff with “related contributions” to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, set up by the hugely popular international since he was diagnosed with the incurable disease last year.
The extra game means Scotland will play 12 tests in 2018, five at Murrayfield and five away from home. After the 6 Nations, the Scots’ summer tour will take in test matches in Canada, the USA and Argentina.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend, said: “Facing Wales on the road is an exciting prospect for our players as we begin the final of year of preparations for Rugby World Cup 2019. Four Test matches in four weeks is a very similar challenge to the one that we will face in Japan.
“This additional contest in the autumn will allow us to expose more Scotland players to international rugby and will support our preparations to face three huge matches at BT Murrayfield later that month, and beyond.”
The Scots are likely to be without their English and French-based players for the fixture, as it falls outwith the recognised three week international window.
Comment: A laudable cause, but what use is another fixture to Scotland?
As a gesture to Doddie Weir’s charitable foundation, the extra fixture this autumn against Wales is welcome. As a competitive rugby international, however, it has plenty of question marks.
The benefit to Wales is clear as stated by their chief executive. However Scotland will be in Cardiff twice this year, and the teams’ familiarity with each other hardly convinces that it will be a hot ticket for a market already saturated with international rugby.
And what new will Scotland learn against the Welsh, who they see in the PRO14 most weeks and play every year in the Six Nations?
This game takes Scotland to 12 international matches in the year, and with warm-ups for the Rugby World Cup and the tournament in Japan itself, they could have easily as many as 16 or 17 in 2019.
The catalogue of injuries all over European rugby this season is testament to the demands now being placed on players.
Adding more extra-intense fixtures isn’t going to help with that, and if the top players are to be properly rested it will probably mean they miss Guinness PRO14 fixtures, devaluing that competition.