Ali Price says that he and his Scotland team-mates are acutely aware that you underestimate a team with as much intellectual capital as Wales at your peril, ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations round two clash between the sides at Murrayfield.
The men from the Principality have struggled during the last 15-months under Wayne Pivac to hit the same sort of high standards which they consistently produced when Warren Gatland was in charge, but still have a nucleus of highly experienced players along the spine of the team who might be well into the twilight of their careers but will never be pushovers.
“I think any side takes time to settle under a new coaching team who are looking to bring in a slightly different style of play, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that Wales still have world-class players,” said Price.
“You’ve got guy like George North potentially winning his hundredth cap, Alun Wyn Jones a hundred-odd caps, Ken Owens is right up there, Jonathan Davies, Dan Biggar … You know, these players are still world class – they just need time to adjust to certain subtle changes a new coach can bring into a team.”
Wales managed to pick up a win in their first match of this year’s Six Nations on Sunday, but it was a far from convincing performance against an Ireland side reduced to 14 men after Peter O’Mahony was red-carded midway through the first half.
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Scotland, meanwhile, played superbly to pick up an historic victory over England at Twickenham last weekend, but their fledgling hopes of mounting a serious challenge for a first Six Nations title since Italy joined the party 21 years ago will take a major blow if they fail to back up that performance on Saturday.
“After the final whistle [of the England game]on Saturday, we got together on the field and spoke about enjoying this moment because it is so rare – 38 years – you’ve got to enjoy these moments,” Price added. “But at the same time, it is game one of five, and there is another massive challenge right in front of us we have to prepare for, and the group is very aware of that.
“We’ve mentioned this before, of how when you win a game it can gather momentum for you, and that’s exactly what we’ve done now. We’ve got off to the best possible start, so it is about using that momentum back at home, and trying to back up what we did on the weekend, because if we don’t then as great as Saturday was it means nothing.”
Scotland will also draw confidence from achieving a first away win against Wales since 1982 when the two sides met in the final round of the 2020 Six Nations last October, but Price believes Pivac’s imprint on the team is becoming more pronounced with every match, meaning that they will be much more of a handful this time around.
“In the autumn, you could see they were trying to change their game, and that’s going to take time,” he reasoned. “Other sides aren’t just going to let you have a practice match, that’s not how it works. You need to be in a competitive environment to drill that in, and slowly you get the benefits from it.
“Watching the game at the weekend, they were far improved from the autumn – and we expect them to be better again on Saturday.”
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Wales will have Liam Williams – who was a star of the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand and is one of the team’s most outstanding performers in recent year – available again after serving his three-match suspension for a red-card whilst playing club rugby for Scarlets last month.
“He’s a brilliant player – his all-round game is very good – he’s great in the air,” acknowledged Price. “So, I think he’ll obviously add to the firepower that Wales have. They’re looking to play a more attacking game and he’s certainly an attacking threat for them.
“It was a physical game for them against Ireland and there were a few casualties, but they’ve still got players like Liam to come back in. They’ve got good depth and they’re a good side.”
With Tomos Williams picking up a hamstring injury against Ireland on Saturday, Gareth Davies is set to start at scrum-half for Wales on Saturday. Davies famously scored a 40-yard intercept try off Price to burst Scotland’s bubble at the start of the 2018 Six Nations, but the Scottish No9 says he has managed to compartmentalise that traumatic experience, so it won’t put him off his stride this Saturday.
“Regardless of who we play, I do my homework and aim for consistency in my performance,” he said. “Gone are the days where I’d try to play against my opposite number or try to outplay someone.
“Don’t get me wrong, Wales are a brilliant side – but for me personally and for the group, it’ll be focusing on our strengths and where we can attack them.
“They’re a good team, but we’ll look to expose areas where we think they’re weak.”