Shane Williams believes Wales have the strength in depth to cope with their current injury crisis and challenge at the top end of the Guinness Six Nations table this year.
George North, Hallam Amos, Johnny Williams, Tomos Williams and Dan Lydiate are all missing for the trip to Scotland on Saturday having started against Ireland last weekend.
Further injuries to Josh Macleod and Josh Navidi, as well as the ongoing recovery of Jonathan Davies and the suspension of Josh Adams, only add to the headache for head coach Wayne Pivac, with Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Liam Williams, Gareth Davies and Aaron Wainwright coming into the side.
Former wing Williams, his country’s record tryscorer with 58 from 87 caps, is confident Wales still have enough quality in their ranks to overcome Gregor Townsend’s men, but he expressed particular sympathy for Lydiate, who suffered a knee injury early on in the victory over Ireland – his first international appearance in more than two years.
“It’s tough,” Williams told the PA news agency. “These players are key, of course, but you do have someone like Liam Williams coming back into the fold, you have Nick Tompkins as well, and we’ve an abundance of scrum-halves in Wales at the moment, and back-rowers.
“I’m personally gutted for these boys because there’s some big injuries there as well. For Dan, that could be the last time he plays for Wales and he’s worked really hard to get back there.
“So personally I feel for them, but I have no concerns about the players that we bring in. I think they’ll do a job, they’ll be hungry and they know exactly what they have to do to beat Scotland on the weekend.”
Pivac was under pressure coming into the championship after winning just three of 10 Tests last year – two against Italy and one against Georgia – but former world player of the year Williams saw some signs of improvement against Ireland, who had Peter O’Mahony sent off after 14 minutes.
“Defensively they were far better,” he said. “They were very strong and aggressive in the tackle, there were double hits, there wasn’t that many missed tackles. I know there were a number of tackles missed leading up to the Tadhg Beirne try, but apart from that I thought they looked very organised.
“Ball in hand, even though they made a couple of mistakes in the breakdown and a couple of handling errors, I think that came because they were trying to play a bit more rugby.
“They were offloading in the tackle, they were offloading before the tackle and there were some lovely passages of play during the game.
“There’s definitely improvement. You’ve got to play particularly well to beat Ireland anyway, whether it’s a 15-man Ireland or a 14-man Ireland. It was a big victory for Wales.”
Wales finished fifth in both the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup in 2020 and now face a Scotland side who are fresh from claiming their first win at Twickenham since 1983.
But Williams believes Pivac will challenge his players to go on and win the championship, with the minimum ambition of achieving a top-two finish.
“I think his mindset would be the top two,” added Williams. “Of course he wants to win the Six Nations, but France are playing particularly well at the moment, England are going to bounce back and be very tough and of course you’ve got Scotland in form at the moment and Ireland that you know are going to up their performance.
“I am fully confident that Wales can beat Scotland at Murrayfield. We’ve got our first game out of the way, hopefully the players are more relaxed and have got confidence. They can do a job, I’ve no doubt.
“It’s a big ask to get in the top two, but I think that’s something Wayne Pivac will try and attempt, and he’s on the way. That will be their mindset moving on now, that they’ve beaten a very good Irish team and that they can win this championship.”
:: Shane Williams is one of Premier Sports’ leading commentators for its live coverage of Guinness PRO14 games throughout the season and works alongside an experienced Premier Sports talent team in Wales including Ross Harries, Sean Holley, Tom Shanklin, Philippa Tuttiett, Eddie Butler, Wyn Gruffydd and Lauren Jenkins. Premier Sports covers every PRO14 game live. To watch just visit www.premiersports.com.