Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann were junior school pupils when Wales last beat England in a Six Nations game at Twickenham.

But 12 years on from that Triple Crown-clinching victory, both Cardiff prospects will feature in one of rugby union’s most fierce rivalries after being selected to start against England on Saturday.

Their sporting careers have a symmetrical appearance, as both were promising footballers – Mann a centre-back in Cardiff’s academy – and they made debuts together for club and country.

They first played for Cardiff across the A316 from Twickenham against Harlequins as teenagers, while Winnett started the 27-26 Six Nations home loss to Scotland last weekend and Mann went on during Wales’ remarkable fightback from 27 points adrift, scoring his team’s fourth try.

Full-back Winnett, 21, was born on January 7, 2003 – flanker Mann on January 6 the previous year – and they look likely to be part of Wales squads heading towards World Cup 2027 in Australia and beyond.

Winnett describes Mann as being “like a big brother” and there is a noticeable chemistry between them, partly forged by their time together for Wales Under-20s, a team that Mann captained.

Reflecting on his Wales debut, Winnett said: “It was amazing, and everything I had worked for since I was a little kid with a dream.

“I was thinking about all the sacrifices my parents made, taking me to sessions, and all the coaches who had helped me get to that point.”

Mann added: “That is what we work for, really. All those days that are dark days or good days.

“Standing there was a bit surreal, I was just soaking it all in, really. It was probably the best day in the world.”

Mann’s football connection extended to events last Saturday, with his friend Isaak Davies scoring the winning goal for Belgian Pro League club Kortrijk against Charleroi at roughly the same time Mann appeared off the bench for his Wales debut.

Davies moved on loan from Cardiff to Kortrijk last summer, and Mann added: “He was the first I FaceTimed afterwards because he was in Belgium playing and he scored, funnily enough the time I came on, so it was a proud day for us both.”

“I started with Cwmbach, got scouted, and then went straight into the (Cardiff City) academy. The professional set-up, I think that has helped me a lot from a young age.

“Then I started playing rugby again in school, and I knew straightaway that was for me. It just came naturally, the way I am.”

Winnett played soccer as a junior at Rhondda club Cambrian and Clydach Vale, where Terry Venables was chairman and president. Venables’ mother Myrtle hailed from Clydach Vale.

“It had always been rugby and football,” Winnett said. “I played for my local team Porth growing up, and then Cambrian, where I had two seasons.

“After those two seasons, I thought I couldn’t keep on playing two games of soccer and rugby on the same day, so I decided to play rugby.”

Attention now turns to Twickenham as Wales target ending a run of seven successive defeats since toppling England there during the 2015 World Cup.

Mann said: “The senior boys in the group have helped us loads, settling us in. Anything I want to ask, they are more than happy to help.

“I am trying to be like a sponge, really, trying to listen to it all and take it all in.”

Wales boss Warren Gatland has made seven changes to the starting line-up for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against England at Twickenham.

Centre George North returns from injury for his 50th Six Nations appearances, lining up alongside Nick Tompkins in midfield.

Fly-half Sam Costelow, who went off injured during the first-half of Wales’ 27-26 loss to Scotland last weekend, is replaced by Ioan Lloyd, with Tomos Williams at scrum-half.

Gatland has also selected a new front-row of Gareth Thomas, Elliot Dee and Keiron Assiratti, with Cardiff flanker Alex Mann handed a first Wales start following his try-scoring appearance off the bench against Scotland.

Freddie Steward has called on England to win back the support of Twickenham as they launch a new era with Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Wales.

In their most recent home fixture, Steve Borthwick’s side were booed by fans after falling 30-22 to Fiji in the build-up to the 2023 World Cup – the first time they had ever lost to the Islanders.

Keen to dispel the funeral atmosphere last seen at Twickenham, Jamie George’s England are determined to reconnect with their support by delivering results and displaying ambition and passion.

Fans rallied behind the team during their march to third place at the World Cup and flocked to Rome for Saturday’s narrow win against Italy, but Steward knows it is the backing they receive in south west London that is critical.

“Being back at home is also synonymous with us being a new group,” said the Leicester full-back.

“This is essentially a fresh start. We have had our World Cup and we are on the start of a new cycle with fresh faces, new coaches. This is our chance to draw a line in the sand.

“As players when you play for England you are expected to win and when you don’t win, understandably you don’t have the fans on your side and there was a bit of that in the warm-ups to the World Cup.

“I would never blame the fans and say they need to lift us. They do that on the back of what we do, so the responsibility is ours.

“During the World Cup when we got to the semi-final it felt like that is what it can be like. As players we want that all the time but we have to put the performances on the field to earn that.

“The fans are the heartbeat of what we do. We want Twickenham to erupt and we want it to be a place we want to go and play in front of our fans and represent them.”

England’s tactics during the first year of Borthwick’s reign were conservative as he tried to shape a side that could challenge at the World Cup just nine months after replacing Eddie Jones as head coach.

The focus on kicking and stats-based approach turned off many supporters, but at the Stadio Olimpico there was greater enterprise and a willingness to attack from their own half.

“There’s the mentality side of it in terms of being braver by attacking further from the line and trying to challenge the opposition, giving them something to think about,” Steward said.

“We were probably guilty early doors of being too one-dimensional in terms of teams knowing what we were going to do.

“But hopefully by evolving the attack it will ask a few more questions of the opposition. The more time we’ve had together, it helps.

“For us as players, we want to play winning rugby. Whatever style that is, we want to win Test matches, we want to win tournaments and have successful campaigns.”

Flanker James Botham has been released from Wales’ Guinness Six Nations squad due to a knee injury.

The Welsh Rugby Union said that Botham, who is the grandson of England cricket great Sir Ian Botham, was hurt during Saturday’s 27-26 defeat against Scotland.

Cardiff forward Seb Davies has been called into the squad, while experienced Harlequins prop Dillon Lewis has also been summoned by Wales head coach Warren Gatland ahead of next Saturday’s Twickenham appointment with England.

The WRU said: “James Botham (Cardiff Rugby) has been released from the squad due to a knee injury picked up during Wales’ 26-27 defeat to Scotland on Saturday.

“He will continue his rehabilitation back at his club.”

Botham scored Wales’ opening try during a thrilling second half against the Scots that saw them fight back to within a point after trailing 27-0.

His Cardiff team-mate Alex Mann, who also touched down, replaced him on his Test debut and now looks a likely starter against England.

Botham’s problem is another back-row injury blow for Gatland, with World Cup co-captain Jac Morgan and 104 times-capped number eight Taulupe Faletau out of the tournament.

Lewis, who has won 54 caps, was a surprise omission from Gatland’s original Six Nations squad.

And he now becomes the fourth tighthead in the group, joining Leon Brown, who started against Scotland but went off at half-time due to an injury, Keiron Assiratti and uncapped Bath forward Archie Griffin.

Scotland have suffered further injury woe after forwards Luke Crosbie and Richie Gray were ruled out for the remainder of the Six Nations.

Edinburgh back-rower Crosbie went off in the second half of Saturday’s 27-26 victory away to Wales with a shoulder issue, while Glasgow second-rower Gray was forced off in the first half with a bicep problem.

The injuries have now been assessed and Scotland confirmed on Tuesday morning that the pair – who both started in Cardiff – will be sidelined for the rest of the tournament.

Scotland were already missing some key players going into last weekend’s opener as co-captain Rory Darge was not deemed fit enough to feature due to a knee injury sustained at the end of December, while Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn and Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham were ruled out of at least the first two matches with knee and quad problems respectively.

The Scots are hopeful that Darge will be fit enough to return in Saturday’s Murrayfield showdown with France, which would offset the loss of Crosbie in the back row, while Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist is available after suspension to take the place of Gray.

Barry John, the Welsh rugby union great who was crowned ‘The King’ after inspiring the Lions’ famous 1971 series victory over the All Blacks, has died at the age of 79.

Tributes poured in for the former Llanelli and Cardiff fly-half, with the Lions calling him “truly one of the greatest”, and Welsh Rugby Union president Terry Cobner saying John “was and will remain a legend of our game”.

John, who won 25 Wales caps between 1966 and 1972 and was given the nickname ‘The King’ by New Zealand journalists due to the impact of his performances on the 1971 tour, died in hospital on Sunday.

A statement released by John’s family read: “Barry John died peacefully today at the University Hospital of Wales surrounded by his loving wife and four children.

“He was a loving dad to his 11 grandchildren and a much-loved brother.”

John played his club rugby for Llanelli and then Cardiff, where he struck up a half-back partnership with Gareth Edwards that went on to flourish for Wales and the Lions.

John was partnered by Edwards in 23 of his Wales international appearances, plus all five Lions Tests – one against South Africa and four against New Zealand. He retired from the sport at the age of 27.

His death comes just four weeks after another star of Welsh rugby’s golden era, JPR Williams, also passed away.

Jonathan Davies, one of the most renowned Welsh players of the 1980s and 1990s, paid tribute to John, writing on social media: “RIP Barry – another one of my heroes sadly gone. #BarryJohnTheKing”.

John will be particularly remembered for his performances on the two Lions Tours, in which he scored 30 of the Lions’ 48 points across four Tests.

Calling him “truly one of the greatest”, the Lions added in a statement: “We are hugely saddened that the great Barry John has passed away at the age of 79.

“Barry inspired so many and will forever be remembered for how much he gave to the sport.

“All our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

WRU president Terry Cobner, who played in the Welsh back-row and toured with the Lions in 1977, described John as “probably the greatest” fly-half of all time.

“To be crowned ‘The King’ in New Zealand when every back row forward in both the North and South Islands is trying to take your head off is quite some accolade,” said Cobner.

“For me, he has got to be right up there among the greatest outside halves who have ever played the game – probably the greatest.

“He was a glider, rather than a sidestepper, who had a subtle change of pace and direction. Coming on top of the recent deaths of Brian Price and JPR Williams, this is another huge blow for Welsh rugby.

“After what he did for Wales and the Lions in 1971, those of us who followed him into both teams always felt we had huge shoes to fill. He was and will remain a legend of our game.”

Scarlets, where John started his first-class career in 1964, described John as “an icon of the game”, while former Lions tourist John Devereux tweeted: “My greatest idol of all time has gone”.

Scotland captain Finn Russell reflected on a range of emotions after his team ended their Cardiff hoodoo by thwarting an astonishing Wales fightback at the Principality Stadium.

A nerve-shredding 27-26 victory was Scotland’s first win in the Welsh capital since 2002, but it did not come before they were left staring at a 12th successive defeat as Wales threatened arguably the greatest Six Nations recovery act.

Having helped orchestrate a 27-point lead two minutes into the second half, Russell could have been excused for thinking it was a case of job done.

But Wales had other ideas, scoring four tries during 20 minutes of mayhem that included yellow cards for Scotland pair George Turner and Sione Tuipulotu, transforming what had been a hopelessly one-sided encounter.

Scotland also conceded 14 successive penalties, such was the ferocity and unrelenting nature of Wales’ all-court game.

Just when it was required, though, Scotland showed courage and composure during the closing minutes to dominate territory and go close to claiming a bonus-point fourth try.

“We had a really good first half and a brilliant start to the second, then a bit of complacency crept in,” Russell said.

“We had discipline issues in the second half which led to two yellow cards and them really getting on the front foot.

“But it showed that we’ve come quite a long way that we managed to win the game in the end. We held tough and did not allow them to get anything towards the end.

“I am probably a little bit disappointed with the second half, but overall it is a great start to the tournament for us. We’ve not won here in 22 years.

“We managed to dig it out in the end, but it shows how tough a place it (Cardiff) is to come. Wales never went away, and that was the pressure the team put us under, but also that the crowd getting involved.

“I’ve played in games with Scotland like that when we have lost, and that was the most pleasing thing, that we managed to find a way to win even though momentum, the crowd, everything was against us towards the end.

“There was loads of good stuff in that first half. With the way everything unfolded in the second half, I am a little bit down, a little bit frustrated, but when we look back there will be loads of positives to take.

“It (the second-half performance) was nowhere near where we need to be. But that is something we will address on Monday and we will build on the back of it and get ready for France (next weekend).”

Les Bleus will arrive at Murrayfield following a crushing defeat against Ireland, and Scotland can also take heart from beating France five times out of the last seven attempts in Edinburgh.

Their mission, though, will be undertaken without lock Richie Gray, who could miss the rest of this season’s Six Nations due to a biceps injury.

And flanker Luke Crosbie is a major doubt after hurting his shoulder, with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend stating: “Both are in a lot of pain.

“Richie and the medics knew straight away it was a biceps injury. So that doesn’t look good for this Championship.

“Luke was a shoulder injury. It’s a painful one and that might settle. Let’s hope he has not done any significant damage there.”

Gregor Townsend feared another dramatic Cardiff collapse would cost Scotland their first win over Wales at the Principality Stadium for 22 years.

Head coach Townsend was an assistant to Andy Robinson in 2010 when Wales scored 17 points in the final few minutes in Cardiff to incredibly turn a 14-24 deficit in to a 31-24 victory.

But this time Scotland – who were 27-0 ahead a few minutes into the second half – withstood a Welsh onslaught to win 27-26 and get their Guinness Six Nations campaign off to a positive start.

“It was a bit like 2010 and it went into my thoughts as the second half went on,” said Townsend after Scotland had ended a run of 11 straight defeats in Cardiff stretching back to 2002.

“I remember the atmosphere that day when Wales had the momentum behind them and came back on the scoreboard.

“The same happened today, fortunately we stayed ahead and we were able to play well in the final five minutes.

“A lot of effort went into that last five minutes – we should have scored a try and we felt there were a couple of penalties that could have gone our way in the last passage – but it was past 80 minutes and we got the win.”

Wing Duhan Van Der Merwe scored two tries and prop Pierre Schoeman also touched down, while skipper Finn Russell was flawless with the boot in landing 12 points.

After Van Der Merwe sliced through for a stunning second try just after the restart, Scotland were on course to eclipse last year’s record win over Wales.

But that was not to be and Townsend was grateful to see Scotland hang on while cursing significant injuries to forwards Richie Gray and Luke Crosbie.

“Both are in a lot of pain,” Townsend said. “Richie and the medics knew straight away it was a bicep injury. So that doesn’t look good for this Championship.

“Luke was a shoulder injury. It’s a painful one and that might settle.

“Not for next week (against France at Murrayfield), but let’s hope he’s not done any significant damage there. It’s a blow to lose two players from our starting team.”

On the nail-biting victory, Townsend added: “We were accurate and put Wales under pressure in the first half.

“Those two tries were really good reward and to have that cushion should have made it a more comfortable second half.

“The fact that it didn’t is a concern for us, but a lot of that was due to the penalty count (16 to four against Scotland) and the numerical advantage Wales had for 20 minutes.”

Wales made the most of second-half yellow cards for George Turner and Sione Tuipulotu to turn the contest on its head.

James Botham, Rio Dyer, Aaron Wainwright and debutant Alex Mann crossed, with Ioan Lloyd kicking three conversions, as Wales secured two losing bonus points.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland, whose young side head to Twickenham next Saturday to play England, said: Did we give Scotland too much respect in that first half?

“They were fully loaded and we’re a young team. To do what we did, be 27-0 down, other teams might have shown less character and start thinking about next week, even throw in the towel.

“We didn’t do that. They kept fighting and put themselves in a position to win. That showed real character and we’ve just got to play like we did in the second half.

“You can’t coach experience. When you’re out there in front of 75,000 people making that much noise and the pace is quicker than club rugby, sometimes that takes time for players to get used to.

“We’ll need a little bit of leeway, but it’s still Test rugby and it’s about winning. That’s what we’ve got to focus on.”

Scotland ended 22 years of hurt in Cardiff after they thwarted a spectacular Wales fightback to win an extraordinary Guinness Six Nations clash 27-26.

It was Scotland’s first win in the Welsh capital since 2002 – ending a run of 11 successive defeats – to set up a mouth-watering Murrayfield encounter against France next Saturday.

But Wales made them fight every inch of the way after the Scots had breezed into a 27-point lead after 42 minutes, with wing Duhan van der Merwe scoring two tries including a virtuoso long-range effort while prop Pierre Schoeman also touched down.

Captain Finn Russell kicked three conversions and two penalties, but it only told half the story.

Flanker James Botham’s try sparked the Welsh recovery then he was followed over the line by Rio Dyer, Aaron Wainwright and debutant Alex Mann, with Ioan Lloyd kicking three conversions.

Scotland found themselves on the rack after hooker George Turner and centre Sione Tuipulotu were sin-binned during the second period, yet they successfully closed the game out and left Wales wondering what might have been.

Both teams started brightly under the stadium’s closed roof and Scotland struck first when Russell kicked an angled 20-metre penalty, before quick lineout ball gave Tuipulotu a chance that Wales managed to defend.

Wales, though, could not stop wave after wave of attacks that led to the game’s opening try after 11 minutes.

Russell created initial space and after a strong run by wing Kyle Steyn, Scotland’s forwards took over and Schoeman crossed from close range. Russell’s conversion made it 10-0.

Scotland enjoyed scrum and lineout dominance and they controlled the opening quarter, even if Wales established promising attacking positions at times.

Russell extended Scotland’s lead with a second penalty – Wales wing Josh Adams was punished for throwing the ball away and denying Scotland a quick lineout throw – and alarm bells were beginning to ring for Gatland’s team.

Inevitably, Russell was at the heart of everything good about Scotland’s magic and he weaved his magic to devastating effect 10 minutes before half-time.

Scotland set up a strong position inside Wales’ 22 and the rest was all about Russell, who ghosted into space, threw a half-dummy pass, then delivered a try on a plate for Van der Merwe.

There appeared no way back for Wales, with their problems showing no sign of abating as fly-half Sam Costelow went off for a head injury assessment as Scotland led 20-0 at the interval.

It got even worse for Wales just two minutes into the second period when Van der Merwe carved them open from deep to claim a blistering solo touchdown, and Russell’s conversion put further daylight between the teams.

Costelow failed his HIA and Gatland made three half-time changes, sending on scrum-half Tomos Williams, hooker Elliot Dee and prop Keiron Assiratti, and Wales opened their account when Botham crashed over.

Turner was sin-binned for an offence in the build-up to Botham’s try and Wales struck again, this time through Dyer, with Lloyd’s conversion cutting the gap suddenly and unexpectedly to 15 points.

It was panic stations for Scotland when Tuipulotu went into the sin bin and Wales punished them immediately as Wainwright touched down for a third try in 13 minutes, with Lloyd converting.

The capacity crowd could scarcely believe what they were witnessing, but it was Williams’s influence off the bench that proved key as he injected pace and purpose into Wales’ game.

And when Mann claimed a 68th-minute try, again converted by Lloyd, the improbable dream edged closer, with Scotland looking bewildered and devoid of answers.

But they somehow held out, Wales left with the consolation of two losing bonus points.

Owen Watkin will complete an impressive recovery from World Cup reject to Six Nations starter when Wales tackle Scotland on Saturday.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland selected seven centres as part of an expanded training squad in May last year for the World Cup – but Watkin was not among them.

George North, Mason Grady, Nick Tompkins, Joe Roberts, Johnny Williams, Max Llewellyn and Keiran Williams were Gatland’s preferred options, with 27-year-old Watkin left in the wilderness.

“Being left out of the training squad was really heartbreaking and massively disappointing for me,” he said.

“But I think setbacks like that can motivate you even more. I didn’t let it get the better of me.

“I knew I had to put more work in, stay injury-free and just create that momentum. I feel confident at the minute, I feel like my game is going well.

“I am probably being a bit braver with things I am trying, I am probably not just going through the motions.

“I am enjoying my rugby at the Ospreys, we are scoring some nice tries and winning some really tough games. I want to bring that momentum from there and try and implement it with Wales.”

While Watkin has won 36 caps and is the sixth-most experienced player in Wales’ starting line-up this weekend, it is his first Test appearance since an ignominious home defeat against Georgia during the 2022 autumn Tests.

“Obviously, you don’t want to go out on a loss,” Watkin added. “I did have that fear of ‘what if it was my last game for Wales’.

“I think I’ve put the work in and I do deserve to be back and I am focusing on the Scotland game. The Georgia game is behind me – I don’t even think about that now.”

Watkin will forge Wales’ midfield partnership with Nick Tompkins, offering an experienced combination as Wales look to make it 12 games unbeaten in Cardiff against Scotland.

The last time Scotland triumphed in the Welsh capital, current head coach Gregor Townsend was fly-half and it required injury-time penalties from Brendan Laney and Duncan Hodge to secure a 27-22 win.

Wales, though, have got it all to do this time around, underlined by a line-up that contains their lowest cap total for a Six Nations game since facing Italy five years ago.

Watkin added: “We know that they (Scotland) are a great team, they can turn it on when they are on their day and we know it is going to be a huge physical battle out there.

“It is going to be high intensity but like I said, we just need to focus on ourselves and control what we can control.

“We want to play rugby, but you have obviously got to play in the right areas.

“You can’t go playing from anywhere, against a team like Scotland as well, (because) they will punish you.

“It’s just (being) sensible where you play from, but when we get the opportunities we are going to look to play.”

Finn Russell insists Wales’ inexperience does not make Scotland’s chances of ending a 22-year wait to win in Cardiff any easier.

Scotland have not won at the Principality Stadium since 2002, losing 11 successive games that comprise nine Six Nations contests, a World Cup warm-up fixture and an autumn Test.

But Wales have hit been hit by a long list of injuries and big-name retirements, while British and Irish Lions wing Louis Rees-Zammit has departed to try and launch a career in American football.

Scotland have arrived in Cardiff in the unusual position of being bookmakers’ favourites for this Guinness Six Nations Championship opener.

But Russell said: “With the Welsh side being slightly different to previous years I think people would see Scotland are favourites.

“I don’t view it like that. We’ve not won here in 22 years, so it shows it’s not an easy place for us to come and win.

“We’ve got a more experienced team, but that doesn’t always count on the day.

“They’ve got very exciting players who will be playing with freedom and that’s part of the joys of having a more youthful side.

“We’re more experienced and we have to lean on that.

“But we’ve got to be careful we don’t overthink the game because it’s a very dangerous team in front of us.

“The atmosphere is one of the best in the world and when the Welsh boys put that red jersey on it’s different to when they are at their clubs.

“It’s a massive challenge for us to win here. We’ve got a few new faces and a few points to prove after a disappointing World Cup, both sides have.”

The Principality Stadium roof will be closed for Saturday’s clash following a U-turn by the visitors.

Under Six Nations regulations, the roof is only closed if both teams agree to it.

Scotland had originally wanted the roof open despite a match-day forecast of persistent light rain.

But Scotland have now reversed that decision with heavier rain forecast and Wales have accepted their request.

Russell said: “For me personally it doesn’t change too much. I was at Racing for five years and they’ve got an indoor stadium. So I’m pretty used to it.

“I think the weather conditions changed over the week, so that’s why the roof is now closed.

“It will get slightly greasy inside with the humidity, but both teams are under the same conditions. It will make for an exciting and fast free-flowing game of rugby.”

Wales host Guinness Six Nations opponents Scotland on Saturday with both countries looking to blast out of the starting blocks.

Momentum is key in European rugby’s blue riband tournament, and it could be a long campaign for whichever team ends up losing.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key talking points heading into the game.

Home sweet home for Wales

When it comes to making home advantage count in the Six Nations, Wales have repeatedly delivered against Scotland. It is 22 years since the Scots triumphed in Cardiff, a 27-22 victory secured through stoppage-time penalties kicked by Brendan Laney and Duncan Hodge. Current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was the fly-half that April afternoon, with hooker Gordon Bulloch scoring two tries, but it has been a tale of woe since then.

Eleven successive defeats – nine Six Nations games, one World Cup warm-up and an autumn Test – unfolded at an average scoreline of 29-14. Scotland did claim a Six Nations win on Welsh soil four years ago during the coronavirus pandemic, but that match was staged in Llanelli behind closed doors.

Flying Finn to fire Scots?

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell is one of world rugby’s genuine box-office talents, and a Six Nations tournament that will not see the likes of star names Antoine Dupont, Louis Rees-Zammit and potentially Marcus Smith this season needs Russell firing on all cylinders. The 31-year-old captains Scotland on Saturday, and he can be expected to relish that responsibility.

Russell lines up on the post-World Cup international stage after producing some command performances for his new club Bath in domestic and European arenas, with the west country club challenging for Premiership and Champions Cup honours. If he hits top form, Scotland will flourish.

Captain Jenkins in the spotlight

Exeter’s 21-year-old lock Dafydd Jenkins will become the youngest Wales captain since Gareth Edwards in 1968 when he leads his country out against Scotland. But such an honour being handed to him only 12 caps into his Test career should not come as a surprise. He first captained Exeter at the age of 19, and this season he has led impressively from the front, with Chiefs firmly in Premiership play-off contention and through to the Champions Cup round of 16.

“He pretty much gets everything right,” Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter said of Jenkins. “Our job is to try not to put too much on his shoulders, but at the same time he is exactly the kind of guy you want as captain of your team.”

Wales fans might need to be patient

Wales have enjoyed considerable success in the Six Nations, being crowned champions on six occasions, with four of those titles achieved in Grand Slam fashion. Five Triple Crowns can also be added to an impressive roll of honour as they have repeatedly punched above their weight, but any challenge for silverware this season appears unlikely.

The long road to World Cup 2027 in Australia starts with Wales fielding their least-experienced Six Nations starting XV since 2019, as a combination of factors mean players like Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, George North, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau are unavailable. The Scotland game is followed by England at Twickenham, Ireland in Dublin and France at home, so Wales are unquestionably up against it.

Can Scotland handle expectation?

Six Nations history might be against them, but Scotland will arrive in Cardiff as firm favourites to end their dismal losing run. Wales field just seven of the side that lost to World Cup quarter-final opponents Argentina last time out, and players like Russell, wing Duhan van der Merwe and centre Huw Jones are genuine game-breakers more than capable of testing a new-look Wales side.

If the Scots hit their straps, then they could win with something to spare, setting themselves up for a Murrayfield showdown with France next weekend, but the biggest battle could be overcoming those Cardiff demons and keeping them at bay.

Gregor Townsend has defended Scotland’s decision to keep the Principality Stadium roof open for their Guinness Six Nations opener in Cardiff.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland called the decision “disappointing”, saying it would impact upon the atmosphere and noise in the 74,500-capacity stadium.

Tournament regulations say both sides must agree to have the roof closed.

Scotland head coach Townsend said: “I thought we had 48 hours to decide, but they said on Wednesday you have to come to a decision.

“I looked at the forecast and it looked quite nice, I’d much prefer playing with the roof open if we can.

“It’s noisier when the roof’s closed, that’s why they’re disappointed. They don’t get that (advantage).

“If the pitch is greasy it’s not great conditions, but it would be better playing in heavy rain. When we looked, it was good weather with 20 to 30 per cent chance of rain in the morning.”

Rain is actually now forecast in the Welsh capital on Saturday evening, with the game kicking off at 4.45pm.

But Townsend remains philosophical should that happen, saying: “I hope the weather stays dry, we want it to be a dry day.

“If that’s the case the conditions will be better because the ball does get greasy and sweaty when the roof’s closed.

“You play rugby at every other ground that doesn’t have a roof. So you play in the dry and the wet.

“If it’s a wet day it will be trickier to move the ball, but I have confidence our players can do that, or find another way to put pressure on the opposition through defence and a kicking game.

“I hope it’s rain in the morning and dry in the afternoon, but we do play in the winter in our sport so players are used to a wet ball.”

Scotland have not beaten Wales in Cardiff since 2002, a day that former outside-half Townsend recalls “wasn’t a great game to play in but I have more fond memories of now”.

Wales have won 11 successive times in Cardiff – nine Six Nations games, a World Cup warm-up and an Autumn Test – although Scotland did win a Covid-impacted contest at Llanelli in 2020.

Townsend said: “We don’t talk about why we’ve struggled here in past but we talk about the record.

“Not many have played throughout those years, although a few played here two years ago when we we didn’t perform and produce our best rugby.

“You have defeats and wins in your Test career and the one against Ireland (the 36-14 loss at the 2023 World Cup) is more in our minds than the one two years ago, and certainly those 10 or 20 years before that.”

Scotland full-back Blair Kinghorn misses out after picking up a knee injury playing for Toulouse last weekend.

Glasgow’s Kyle Rowe deputises to makes his first international start, his only previous cap coming away to Argentina in July 2022 when he appeared as a substitute and lasted only 10 minutes before damaging his ACL.

“Blair didn’t think he’d thought be out this week, but we had the scan done in camp and he will be out for the first two games,” said Townsend.

“We’re really pleased with Kyle’s form and see him as someone comfortable in that position, and it’s really important we’ve got someone with confidence coming into such a big fixture.”

Townsend says the game has “come a couple of days too soon” for recently appointed co-captain Rory Darge, who has been sidelined by a knee injury, so outside-half Finn Russell leads the side.

Blair Kinghorn has been ruled out of Scotland’s first two Guinness Six Nations matches with a knee injury, paving the way for Kyle Rowe to make his first international start at full-back in Saturday’s opener in Wales.

The Toulouse number 15 becomes the second member of Scotland’s first-choice back three to be ruled out of the match in Cardiff and the following weekend’s visit from France, with free-scoring Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham also absent due to quad tightness.

Rowe’s only previous cap came away to Argentina in July 2022 when he came on as a substitute and lasted only 10 minutes before damaging his ACL, resulting in him being sidelined for most of the following year.

The 25-year-old has been in good form for Glasgow this term, scoring seven tries, including three in his last two outings before meeting up with the national team.

Kyle Steyn, who recently returned after three months out, and Duhan van der Merwe will start on the wings.

Recently-appointed co-captain Rory Darge has not recovered from a knee injury in time to feature so stand-off Finn Russell will skipper the side.

Previous skipper Jamie Ritchie, who lost the role last month, has been named as one of this weekend’s vice-captains and will start in the back-row alongside Matt Fagerson and Luke Crosbie, with Jack Dempsey – the first-choice number eight for most of last year – on the bench.

Ben White, Scotland’s preferred scrum-half for the majority of last year, is restored to the number-nine jersey after Ali Price took his place in the starting XV for the last two matches of the World Cup against Romania and Ireland.

Glasgow lock Scott Cummings starts in place of his suspended Edinburgh counterpart Grant Gilchrist.

Props Elliot Millar-Mills and Alec Hepburn – who was capped six times by England in 2018 – are both in line to make their Scotland debuts off the bench.

However, there is no place in the 23 for in-form Saracens back-rower Andy Christie who had been touted as a potential starter.

The Scots are eyeing a first victory in Cardiff for 22 years.

Ryan Elias has praised Wales’ Six Nations newcomers and their impact on a squad preparing for Saturday’s tournament opener against Scotland in Cardiff.

Head coach Warren Gatland’s 34-strong group contains just 18 players who were involved in a World Cup campaign that ended only last autumn.

The list of absentees reads like a Welsh rugby who’s who, headlined by players such as Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Anscombe, Tomas Francis, Dewi Lake, Jac Morgan and Taulupe Faletau.

Wales have a new skipper – their youngest since 1968 – in 21-year-old Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins, while Cardiff quartet Cam Winnett, Evan Lloyd, Alex Mann and Mackenzie Martin are among five uncapped players.

It represents a considerable reset on the World Cup road to Australia 2027, but experienced campaigner Elias has been enthused by preparations for Scotland’s Principality Stadium visit.

“There are a lot of young, new faces and they bring a lot of energy to the sessions. They want to learn,” Wales hooker Elias said.

“To be honest with you, it was a bit odd in the first day or two.

“You are so used to seeing the old boys and experienced heads that have been there for years. I remember watching them growing up, people like Dan Biggar, who have been stalwarts for the country.

“Other boys get the chance to – and have to – step up. It is very competitive in training.

“There is a competitive and physical edge. These young lads are sharp, so you have to be on the ball.

“People might not be giving us much of a chance because there have been so many changes, but we are just concentrating on ourselves to put a performance in we can be proud of.”

Wales face successive trips to Twickenham and Dublin after hosting Scotland, which underlines the importance of a first game where recent history strongly favours Warren Gatland’s team.

Scotland have suffered 11 successive defeats in Cardiff, comprising nine Six Nations encounters, a World Cup warm-up game and an autumn Test.

And if Wales can continue that trend it would make an immediate statement not only to their rivals, but also the bookmakers predicting a fifth-place finish with only Italy below them.

Wales assistant coach Neil Jenkins said: “We always believe we can prove ourselves.

“I think most people have written us off already, there is no doubting that. It is not something we tend to worry about.

“It is momentum isn’t it, the Six Nations? I always say with us that we generally get better as the tournament goes on, so the first two games are always massive for us.

“There are quite a few new players involved in this group, and it will be the first time for them in terms of experiencing a Six Nations game.

“It is a settled Scotland side and I am sure they will be fancying their chances, but we’ve just got to focus on ourselves.”

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