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Big Names Dropped! Six Nations Preview – Scotland v Wales

Warren Gatland has insisted he has not pensioned off the Wales old guard and it was always the plan to shake-up his Six Nations selection.

That view, however, may not be the one taken by many fans who will see Gatland’s team selection for the game against Scotland as a changing of the guard.

Out have gone the veteran pillars of the past decade – 37-year-old Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau, 32, and Justin Tipuric, 33.

In, have come Dafydd Jenkins, 20, Chris Tshiunza, 21, and 23-year-old Tommy Reffell.

Tshiunza and Reffell form an entirely new back row, with 23-year-old Jac Morgan moving from flanker to No.8.

But when it was put to head coach Gatland that he had ripped up the script and gone for new blood, the New Zealander said: “I don’t think so.

“We’d spoken to Alun Wyn Jones before the campaign about not playing all the games as we need to see some of the youngsters in that position where we’ve got some talent. But they’re young and inexperienced.

“Christ gets an opportunity. He’s a great athlete. The decision-making at 8 is who is our cover at No. 8 if Faletau gets injured. That’s the thinking behind that.

“It could have been someone like Aaron Wainwright as well.

“We’ve kept some continuity in the backline who we thought we attacked well but we just weren’t clinical in finishing some of those opportunities.

“So there’s changes, but I wouldn’t say there’s wholesale changes. In the past I’ve been criticised for making too many changes, particularly against Italy or in the autumn, so I’ve tried to work on the balance.

“We’ve spoken about giving these youngsters some time. But I wouldn’t say we’ve made too many changes.”

Scarlets prop Wyn Jones has also been recalled instead of Gareth Thomas, while tight-head Dillon Lewis replaces Tomas Francis, with Gatland retaining the back division that started against Ireland.

“We have got a huge disparity between those experienced players with the number of caps they’ve got, and a lot of incredibly talented youngsters with a limited number of caps,” Gatland added.

“We just need to find that balance.”

Anyone in a rush to slate Gatland for throwing away too many wise old heads – or blast him for not doing this kind of major surgery sooner – should consider a key fact.

The wily old Kiwi has coached Wales in 11 matches against Scotland and never lost.

The Scots also have a notoriously poor record when it comes to backing up big victories, like the one they achieved over England at Twickenham last weekend.

In the past two seasons, they have beaten the English and then immediately come a cropper against Wales.

Wales have won five of the last six meetings between the two sides that now contest the Doddie Weir Cup.

Gatland added: “I said it during the autumn, I think it’s the strongest Scottish side I’ve seen for a number of years in terms of the depth they got.

“They kept the All Blacks scoreless for 50 minutes in a game where they could have won. The strength in depth for them is there.

“The comments coming out of their camp are about consistency and having big wins, but being unable to follow it up.

“For us, the goal for us this week is to start well and cut out the silly penalties we gave away early in the game that put us under pressure. Then it’s about being clinical.”

Most odds-makers are giving Wales a 6-7 points start against a Scotland team with only one change from the side that beat England.

Prop Zander Fagerson returns, having recovered from a hamstring injury with veteran WP Nel dropping to the bench.

The Scots are now looking to make history by winning their opening two Six Nations fixtures for the first time ever, the last time they managed to start off a championship with back-to-back victories having been in its Five Nations days in 1996.

Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie said: “We were delighted to win and retain the Calcutta Cup last week, but we’ve been in this position before and not backed it up.

“It was the first thing we spoke about in the huddle after the win. We all came together and said ‘look, we’ve been in this position before and we’ve not backed it up’ and that, for us, is the most important thing.

“A strong tournament for us is five good performances, so we will be looking for another.”

Scotland: 15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Kyle Steyn, 13. Huw Jones, 12. Sione Tuipulotu, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Ben White, 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Jamie Ritchie (Captain), 7. Luke Crosbie, 8. Matt Fagerson

Replacements: 16. Fraser Brown, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. WP Nel, 19. Jonny Gray, 20. Jack Dempsey, 21. George Horne, 22. Blair Kinghorn, 23. Chris Harris

Wales: 15. Liam Williams, 14. Josh Adams, 13. George North, 12. Joe Hawkins, 11. Rio Dyer, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Tomos Williams, 1. Wyn Jones, 2. Ken Owens (Captain), 3. Dillon Lewis, 4. Dafydd Jenkins, 5. Adam Beard, 6. Christ Tshiunza, 7. Tommy Reffell, 8. Jac Morgan

Replacements: 16. Scott Baldwin, 17. Rhys Carre, 18. Leon Brown, 19. Rhys Davies, 20. Taulupe Faletau, 21. Rhys Webb, 22. Rhys Patchell, 23. Alex Cuthbert

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