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Six Nations 2024: Scotland look to end 22-year Cardiff curse against Wales

Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 3 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, S4C, BBC Radio Scotland Extra, BBC Radio Wales, Radio Cymru & live text on the BBC Sport website and app

Gregor Townsend started for Scotland the last time they won a Six Nations match in Cardiff. Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins had not yet been born.

Since the 21-year-old’s arrival, the Scots have been victorious in Dublin, Paris, Rome and even Sydney.

Yet the Welsh capital has remained impregnable since March 2002.

Admittedly, it was only 2020 when Townsend’s side went to Llanelli and won in an empty Parc y Scarlets – but the Principality Stadium is a different beast.

Scotland have come close to ending the drought on a few different occasions but there is real belief this might be the year to finally end the Cardiff curse.

While Scotland’s record in South Wales may rankle, it should be remembered that Wales have enjoyed a golden generation in the past 20 years, winning six Six Nations titles – five of which were Grand Slams.

In the same time period, Scotland picked up four wooden spoons and have only beaten Wales on six occasions since that day in 2002.

Close calls in Cardiff

There have been opportunities, though. In 2006, the match was evenly poised before Scott Murray’s red card – the first time a player had been sent off in the tournament since 2001.

Then, in 2010, the day that haunts Scotland fans more than any other – with the exception of the 2015 World Cup quarter-final, perhaps.

Leading by 10 points going into the final four minutes, yellow cards to Scott Lawson and Phil Godman helped Wales complete the comeback of the Millennium.

The image of Shane Williams running between the posts, an arm aloft in celebration before he had even dotted the ball down, is enough to turn the stomach of any Scot who watched that day.

Scotland would go on to throw away leads in 2016 and 2022, too. “It’s a horrible feeling,” said then-captain Stuart Hogg of the most recent loss. “We cost ourselves the game.”

So why should Scotland fans feel confident, even after another World Cup group stage exit just a few months ago?

Gatland forced to rip it up and start again

Two years ago, Scotland still had not ever won back-to-back matches in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations. Last year, they finally conquered that mission.

They did so by handing Wales their biggest ever defeat by the Scots – a 25-point margin that beat a record set in 1924.

That humbling at Murrayfield embodied a difficult Six Nations campaign for the returning Warren Gatland. With just one win from five, they conceded more tries than they had in any other campaign.

The New Zealander was haunted by off-field problems that not even he could not solve, and now he faces a different problem.

A raft of key players retired after the World Cup and the brightest young guns that were meant to step up and replace them have picked up injuries.

Dan Biggar has retired, Liam Williams is playing in Japan, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric did not even make it to the World Cup. There will be no Jac Morgan, no Dewi Lake, no Christ Tshiunza and incredibly, no Louis Rees-Zammit.

As a result, Gatland has had no choice but to name one of the most inexperienced squads in Six Nations history.

Townsend casts net for extra numbers

Scotland’s selection has been more pragmatic – a blend of youth and experience that is embodied by Townsend’s choice to name two co-captains, Finn Russell and Rory Darge.

Sure, there is no Stuart Hogg or Hamish Watson to drag Scotland forward. There will be no Darcy Graham or Darge, but Townsend has cultivated more strength in depth than any other Scotland coach.

He has been harangued by some for his use of Scottish-qualified players – and the stat that more than 50% of Scotland’s squad was born outside the country should alarm – but he has, like Gatland, been left with no option.

Instead, Scotland look to Kyle Steyn to replace the electric Graham and Luke Crosbie to fill Darge’s boots.

The pressure of captaincy has been removed from Jamie Ritchie’s shoulders, with the hope being it will allow the flanker to get back to his best, unshackled by the responsibility.

Instead, that will fall upon Russell – a magician known for smiling in the face of adversity, laughing off his mistakes and unlocking defences with great brio.

Back under the aegis of his master, the fly-half has spoken of his desire to win a trophy for Scotland. And, at 31, time is limited.

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