Sun, Feb 08, 2009 - Page 18 News List

RBS NATIONS: Wales begin title defense with trip to Murrayfield

AFP , EDINBURGH

Wales begin the defense of their Six Nations title away to Scotland at Murrayfield today as favorites for both the match and the championship they won with a Grand Slam last year.

Wales are currently Europe’s top-ranked team and, in November, were the only northern hemisphere nation to beat one of the Tri-Nations when they defeated Australia in Cardiff.

However, Scotland came agonizingly close to beating South Africa, the world champions, that month, before losing 14-10 after going 10-0 up.

Wales wing Shane Williams, the reigning World Player of the Year, knows Scotland are capable of causing an upset.

Wales have won just once at Murrayfield since the turn of the century and Williams said there would be no question of his side getting ahead of themselves as they bid to become the first Welsh team in a century to win back-to-back Grand Slams.

“Murrayfield is a tough place to play and we know it is a very good Scotland side,” Williams said. “We will need to be on top of our game.”

“There is a confidence in our ability as a team and as individuals, but I don’t think we’ve got a label of arrogance in the squad,” added the Ospreys flyer, the top try-scorer in last year’s Six Nations and the holder of the Welsh record after breaking Gareth Thomas’ mark of 40.

Wales coach Warren Gatland was forced into a last-minute change to his line-up after Gavin Henson was ruled out with a strained calf.

In his absence, experienced center Tom Shanklin wins his 59th cap alongside Jamie Roberts in the Welsh midfield, with Andrew Bishop coming on to the bench.

Edinburgh prop Geoff Cross, a qualified doctor, is set to make his Scotland debut after Euan Murray failed to recover in time from a rib problem.

Former Scotland captain Jason White, normally a flanker, will find himself in the unusual position of lock after Perpignan second-row Nathan Hines was ruled out with a knee injury.

Team coach Frank Hadden surprised many observers by leaving Chris Paterson, Scotland’s record points scorer, on the bench. The starting side does not have a goal-kicker of Paterson’s proven Test class — a high-risk strategy for a team that managed just three tries in the whole of last year’s Six Nations.

Instead, Paterson’s Edinburgh colleague Hugo Southwell is at full-back, while Phil Godman starts at outside-half alongside scrum-half and Scotland captain Mike Blair.

There are now just two professional teams in Scotland and Hadden has faced accusations of bias by including 10 Edinburgh players in his team and only two from Glasgow.

That is despite Glasgow being higher up in the Celtic League and the fact they recently won away to French giants Toulouse, the three-times champions, in this season’s European Cup.

Center Graeme Morrison and flanker John Barclay are the only Warriors in the starting side, while free-scoring wing Thom Evans, to the fury of Glasgow fans, didn’t even make the 22.

But the 30-year-old White, who plays for English club side Sale, defended Hadden’s choice by saying: “The number of Edinburgh guys in the side is a bonus because it brings familiarity in terms of key combinations.”

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