Huw Jones has never been to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, but he knows what Scotland must do there on Saturday if they are to challenge for the Six Nations title.
“This is a must-win,” the centre says, matter-of-factly.
“If we want to win the title then every game is must-win.
“Last year we didn’t win away [against France or England], but there is a lot of optimism and we are getting a lot of praise about the way we are playing.”
Seasoned observers of Scottish rugby carry around an amount of baggage at this time of year. It’s been 19 years since Scotland raised a gallop as contenders. Almost two decades of failure in the championship tends to make you sceptical about talk of new dawns.
Of the squad that Gregor Townsend has to pick from – he names his team on Wednesday – only John Barclay and Scott Lawson know what it’s like to win away in the Six Nations anywhere other than Rome.
“This is a big test. If we can go down and win then hopefully that optimism will continue,” Jones said.
“We definitely don’t want to be complacent. We think we can win, but we would never go into a game expecting it to happen. It’s going to be a hard game and we’ll have to earn it. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
It’s been 16 years since Scotland won in Cardiff, not that Jones thinks about that stuff much, if at all. He has made a massive impression in a short space of time.
The centre has played 11 Tests and has won seven of them while scoring seven tries – three in two matches against Australia, two against England and one in each of his last three internationals against Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
“I don’t worry too much about those past [losing] stats,” says Jones. “We want to live in the here and now and look at what’s currently going on. This will be my first time playing in Cardiff, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Scotland’s front-row has, of course, been hit with multiple withdrawals – five props and three hookers are injured and a sixth prop, Simon Berghan is suspended – but, if anything, Wales have been hit even more drastically than Townsend’s team.
All manner of Lions and assorted other go-to men have gone from Warren Gatland’s plans. Of the players missing from both sides, you could build one hell of a Six Nations XV.
“I’m sure [Wales] will feel it. If we were missing that amount of players, we’d feel it, too,” Jones said.
“Any team would. I’m sure the guys who come in will step up, though. When we’ve had guys come in for the debuts in the past couple of games they have stepped up, so I see no reason why these Welsh players won’t do that as well.
“We can’t go down there thinking it’s a weak Welsh team. Everyone has had their debut at some point and this could be the big chance for someone to come in and shine.
“We can’t think that because they don’t have [George] North and [Sam] Warburton they’re not going to be as good.”
It’s not just North and Warburton who were missing from Gatland’s side when he named it on Tuesday. It’s Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland, Rhys Webb, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate and Jake Ball. Gatland has gone with 10 players from the in-form Scarlets.
“They’ve been playing a really attacking style of rugby,” says Jones. “I’ve looked at them and their players. John [Barclay, another Scarlet and Scotland captain] has been very generous in sharing some of his tips. It should be an exciting game.”