Wales v Scotland: 'What you lose in experience, you make up for with the fearlessness of youth'

  • Video report from ITV Wales' Matthew Southcombe

For sports fans, the Six Nations is the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that somebody once decided to call January.

But, for Warren Gatland, this year's tournament might provide little reprieve from the greyness that seems to cover Wales as winter turns to spring.

This year, even the most passionate of fans would struggle to disagree with the idea that Wales don't appear ready to challenge for the title.

There has been a changing over the guard in the last 12 months, which has been as stark as it has been rapid.

Since last year's tournament, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric have retired, Ken Owens has been absent through a back injury, Dan Biggar has ridden off to the sunnier climes of Southern France.

Warren Gatland has breathed new life into his set up as the average age of the squad has dropped to the mid-twenties. Credit: PA Images

Liam Williams is unavailable after signing a contract in Japan and Gareth Anscombe is recovering from surgery.

Forgive the list but World Cup co-captains Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan are also on the injured list, while George North and Will Rowlands will miss at least the opening game against Scotland.

Perhaps it is easy to see, then, why the bookmakers have Wales as rank outsiders for this year's tournament.

Gatland has breathed new life into his set up and much of that is out of necessity. The average age of the squad has dropped to the mid-twenties.

Dafydd Jenkins is Wales' second youngest captain ever - behind the great Gareth Edwards - and Cam Winnnett will make his debut tomorrow at the age of 21.

Wales' Dafydd Jenkins during a team run at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Credit: PA Images

Nine of the matchday 23 have cap totals in the single figures and it's the most inexperienced team Wales have put out in the Six Nations since 2019, when Gatland made 10 changes for a game against Italy in Rome.

Much has always been expected of the Welsh rugby team by its own supporters but perhaps expectations need to be more measured this time around.

Scotland, for example, have experienced very little upheaval since the Rugby World Cup and come to Cardiff with a much-fancied side.

In the build-up to this tournament, Gatland and his coaching staff have spoken of their desire to have a team full of talented youngsters who have 30 to 40 caps to their name by the time we reach the next World Cup, and this is the start of that journey.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland during a team run at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Credit: PA Images

The boss has refused to acknowledge that he has been forced into making more changes than he would have liked so quickly - 13 players in this squad have never played a Six Nations match - but, deep down, he might accept there is an element of rolling a dice here.

The camp have made all the noises you'd expect them to make but the circumstances dictate that this is something of a free hit for Wales but pressure could mount as the tournament goes on.

An upset against Scotland tomorrow would alleviate pretty much all of it but defeat suddenly turns this into a long seven weeks. If Wales were to succumb to Finn Russell's mob, they then face daunting away trips to England and Ireland before welcoming France to Cardiff.

Suddenly, it becomes difficult to see where a win might come from heading into the final game, at home to Italy. By which point, there could be a mountain of pressure on a very young squad.

All of that goes away, however, if they get past Scotland tomorrow and this has not been a happy hunting ground for Gregor Townsend's side. The head coach himself was playing fly-half the last time the Scots won in Cardiff back in 2002, so Wales do have history on their side.

There does also appear to have been some muddled thinking in the Scotland camp this week. On Thursday it emerged that they were refusing to close the roof of the Principality Stadium for the match but by Friday morning, they had reversed their decision.

Given the make-up of the Wales squad, it seems almost irresponsible to talk of titles and if, somehow, they were able to work their way into that conversation then it would be Gatland's greatest achievement.

But if Wales were to topple Scotland and Italy in this campaign, then it would tick a lot of boxes from the Kiwi and give them something to build on heading into a summer tour.

And for all the reasons to be cautious, as one member of Wales' backroom staff told me this week: "What you lose in age and experience, you make up for with the energy, fearlessness and exuberance of youth."

Whatever happens, it won't be dull.

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