Last season a dismal Wales collected the Six Nations wooden spoonbut two encouraging, albeit losing, World Cup displays against New Zealandand eventual champions England have created a climate of renewedconfidence in the rugby-mad nation.
Meanwhile Scotland, who like Wales struggled to make it into theWorld Cup quarter-finals, have been buoyed by the arrival of new Australiancoach Matt Williams who has put his trust in some promising young talents.
Such was the mood of optimism within Wales that centre IestynHarris even dared to suggest the team might be title contenders.
"We are in a situation now that we are playing some goodrugby but we have to concentrate on our own game," said Harris.
"If that makes us contenders at the end then it would befantastic," Harris added.
And he was backed up by Wales coach Steve Hansen. "There's a big difference between this year's expectationsand previous ones because we can justify this year's by looking at ourperformances in the World Cup," said Hansen, set to return to his native New Zealandwhen his contract expires after the Six Nations.
But Wales will be without hooker Robin McBryde and lock RobertSidoli, both injured. Sidoli will be replaced by the experienced Gareth Llewellyn,now just three caps shy of Neil Jenkins's Welsh record of 87 Tests.
Elsewhere Gareth Thomas, retained at full-back after starringthere as an emergency measure during the World Cup, will be seeking the one tryhe needs to match Ieuan Evans's Welsh record tally of 33.
Meanwhile Williams, faced with several retirements after the WorldCup, including those of captain and scrum-half Bryan Redpath and veteranplaymaker Gregor Townsend, has been bold in his initial Test selection.
Edinburgh centre-wing Tom Philip, Borders scrum-half Chris Cusiterand Edinburgh back-row forward Allister Hogg will represent their countryfor the first time on Saturday.
"The three of them deserve this chance," said Williams,who said his long-term aim is to bolster Scotland's team for the next World Cup in
"They have done very well since the World Cup. A lot ofplayers have retired since then and I have had to build a new side and I haveconfidence in these guys," added Williams whose team will be led by ChrisPaterson, the Edinburgh fly-half.
"We haven't the resources of the English and the French interms of personnel and our plans are longer term. But sometimes we can be toocautious. It will be a great experience for them."
Wales: Gareth Thomas (Celtic Warriors); Rhys Williams (Cardiff), SonnyParker (Celtic Warriors), Iestyn Harris (Cardiff), Shane Williams(Neath-Swansea); Stephen Jones (Llanelli), Gareth Cooper (Celtic Warriors); DafyddJones (Llanelli), Martyn Williams (Cardiff), Colin Charvis (Tarbes/FRA,capt); Gareth Llewellyn (Neath-Swansea), Brent Cockbain (Celtic Warriors);Adam Jones (Neath-Swansea), Mefin Davies (Celtic Warriors), Duncan Jones(Neath-Swansea) Replacements: Huw Bennett (Neath-Swansea) or Gareth Williams(Cardiff), Gethin Jenkins (Celtic Warriors), Michael Owen (Dragons), JonathanThomas (Neath-Swansea), Dwayne Peel (Llanelli), Ceri Sweeney (CelticWarriors), Tom Shanklin (Cardiff)
Scotland: Ben Hinshelwood (Worcester/ENG); Simon Danielli (Bath/ENG), TomPhilip (Edinburgh), Brendan Laney (Edinburgh), Andrew Henderson (Glasgow);Chris Paterson (Edinburgh, capt), Chris Cusiter (Borders); Simon Taylor(Edinburgh), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh), Cameron Mather (Glasgow); Stuart Grimes (Newcastle/ENG), Scott Murray (Edinburgh); Bruce Douglas (Borders),Gordon Bulloch (Glasgow), Tom Smith (Northampton/ENG) Replacements: Rob Russell (Saracens/ENG), Gavin Kerr (Leeds/ENG),Jason White (Sale/ENG), Simon Cross (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (Edinburgh),Dan Parks (Glasgow), Simon Webster (Edinburgh).
Referee: Donal Courtney (IRL)