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Wales vs Scotland Six Nations preview: 'You’d be mad to miss this particular Celtic kerfuffle'

By Claire Thomas
WALES VS SCOTLAND

The 2024 Women’s Six Nations is upon us, and it feels a significant one.

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The most professionalised instalment yet. The final edition before we’re into a World Cup year – and a championship which will gift one nation a golden ticket to that very event. Scotland, Italy, and Wales will all fancy themselves to bag that particular prize, whilst both England and France – home, hosed, and qualified already – believe they’ll be atop the purple podium in Bordeaux in a few weeks’ time.

Guinness have stuck their branding on it, broadcasters have stuck a pair of the opening round’s fixtures on BBC Two, and the Red Roses have stuck their necks out and promised us a brave new attacking philosophy. Rumour has it that all five opposition defence coaches wept at this revelation.

We’ve grown so accustomed to the upward trajectory of the women’s game that any stalling in momentum at this stage would surely give us all whiplash – so here’s to 2024’s Six Nations being the best one yet.

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If the senior men’s and u20s championships were anything to go by, we’re in for a scintillating ride – so clear your weekends, pick a toe-curlingly awful fantasy team name, and make sure you’re on your sofa by Saturday tea time – because Wales versus Scotland, kicking off in Cardiff at quarter to five, is the pick of the bunch for round one – and here’s why.

They both absolutely, hand-on-heart, believe they can win it. Wales have clinched four of the last five, and by widening margins (one, two, five, and then twelve points – in case you were wondering), and they’re the higher-ranked side.  Sixth in the world, and fresh from earning their WXV 1 badge.

They’ve been professional for longer, they were the ones to reach the World Cup quarter-finals, and they’ve so many PWR-winning Gloucester-Hartpury athletes in their squad that they should probably have Sean Lynn listed on their website as an assistant coach.

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They’ll be playing at home, in the shadow of the Principality – where they’re headed for their fifth-round clash with Italy – and they have Sisilia Tuipulotu, rugby’s answer to the ‘plus four’ card in Uno.

Scotland, though, have won their last six Test matches, which arguably qualifies them for ‘purple patch’ status. They’re the WXV 2 champions – after notching bonus point victories against South Africa, the USA, and Japan.

They’re into their second year on full-time contracts, so those benefits are really starting to materialise – particularly within their physicality, which is where they came unstuck last year against the Welsh.

They were outmuscled that day by a side bigger, meaner, and more clinical – but they’ll fancy themselves to go toe-to-toe, thistle-to-feather this time around – which would allow them to unleash their devastating strike runners.

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Their squad that afternoon featured 11 athletes with 12 or fewer caps, including five of their starting backs – but just look at how Fran McGhie has blossomed over the past year. The same can be said of Meryl Smith or Eva Donaldson: seven Tests and half a Premiership season later, and they’re vastly cannier, more assured individuals.

Such prodigious talents really do add some sparkle to this fixture, and there are youngsters across both sides poised to step up in 2024.

Their intrepid 2023 cameos are done, and credentials proven: it’s time they contest the ‘Best Player in a Leading Role’ category for the first time.

Donaldson, McGhie, and Smith – plus Kate Williams, Nel Metcalfe, Elliann Clarke, Bryonie King, and – although she’s a superstar already for the Cherry and Whites – Lleucu George are consistently proving in club colours that they’re ready to feature prominently this championship: to be at the heart of game-defining moments, and become familiar presences in the gently swaying, anthem-jacketed rows.

On paper, these 80 minutes will pit Wales against Scotland, but – on a theoretical level – there’s an additional and intriguing collision taking place – between the benefits of competing against the very best in the world, and those of developing winning habits.

Whose last six months have been the most productive? Wales, by dint of their third-placed finish in last year’s Six Nations, found themselves rubbing burly shoulders with WXV 1’s titans in October, before suffering three comprehensive defeats and finishing bottom of the pile.

Scotland, meanwhile, headed into the competitive but less treacherous waters of WXV 2 – more Rumba Rapids than Bermuda Triangle – and enjoyed three bonus point victories en route to lifting their first trophy in goodness knows how long.

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So, is it better to grapple with the best in the world, fall short, and emerge battle-hardened? Or can you condition yourself to win through repetitions of that exact triumphant action? A.k.a – is getting over the line a muscle you can train? To what extent is winning really a habit? It was certainly one Scotland needed to rediscover, after a torrid 2022… On Saturday, we’ll see how those experiences have shaped these squads, and that’s fascinating.

Speaking of rivalries, and this only adds to the entertainment value of it all, there’s not much love lost between these two. In recent years, Wales versus Scotland has been played with plenty on the line and scarcely a thing left unsaid. Tempers flare, the impacts and clashes continue for a few volatile seconds after the whistle sounds, and the sledging reaches levels rarely seen outside of the Winter Olympics.

Wales are an infamously niggly and abrasive outfit – they leave opposition’s patience as ruffled as Alex Callender’s hair after ten minutes of clear outs – and never seem to lean into this as hard as they do against the Scots.

Chat to anyone from either camp about this match-up, and you’ll be regaled with tales of choice words, skulduggery, and out-and-out hostility. Expect spice, crackle, needle, and venom – and a pile of figurative gloves discarded by the side of the pitch ahead of kick-off.

Saturday will be an enthralling battle in its own right, but its protagonists also need to use it to slingshot themselves into the second round. Taking the spoils in Cardiff is the ultimate goal, and the squads won’t be looking beyond that, but the coaches are well aware that they must leave the Arms Park with momentum, intensity, and cohesion – because the fixtures list sees them tackling colossuses next week.

Wales might only be popping up the M4 to Ashton Gate, but the best team in the world will be lying in wait – humming with collective intent, whilst individually desperate to leave their mark – because John Mitchell’s squad is so ludicrously chock-full of talent that sheer competition for jerseys is going to produce some staggering, opposition-flattening performances.

Wales are a vasty-improved outfit from the one who suffered a 73-7 shellacking in Bristol ahead of the World Cup, but visiting the Red Roses is the tallest task in the game, and they have to produce a performance this weekend which will allow them a bit of a run-up.

Easson’s women, meanwhile, will be back on home soil – as Les Bleues attempt to hijack the Hive. France won’t have it easy – there’s no way we’ll see anything like the 55 unanswered points they put on Rachel Malcolm’s side last year in Vannes – but, again, Scotland can’t afford to be warming to the task as Caroline Drouin languidly strikes the first ball in Edinburgh.

Jeopardy, intrigue, stars both super and rising, crucial table points, and a whole lot of previous: Wales versus Scotland has everything, and we’ve not even mentioned one of this column’s favourites, Chloe Rollie.

The 2024 Women’s Six Nations is upon us, and you’d be mad to miss this particular Celtic kerfuffle. Fingers crossed you agree: we’ll see you on Saturday.

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2 Comments
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Courtney 117 days ago

The match was everything you imagined it would be, I can’t wait for the next instalment.

A
Antony 123 days ago

Excellent and colourful description of what promises to be a fantastic game – looking forward to it! See you there indeed.

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