Sunday 24 September 2017

Scots huff and puff but are second best again

Scotland 23 Wales 26

Rob Harley of Scotland competes for a high ball with Dan Lydiate and Leigh Halfpenny
Rob Harley of Scotland competes for a high ball with Dan Lydiate and Leigh Halfpenny
Wales's wing Liam Williams goes over to score a try
Wales’s fly half Dan Biggar (top) takes a catch and tumbles over Scotland’s fly half Finn Russell at Murrayfield yesterday
Wales's wing Liam Williams (L) sends the ball forward
Scotland's full back Stuart Hogg (C) tries to claim a loose ball

Robin Scott-Elliot

At the end, Wales, a hard-earned one-score victory secure in their back pockets, limped round on a weary lap of honour. Scotland headed for the dressing room, possibly in pursuit of Glen Jackson, the referee who had departed moments earlier, a cacophony of boos and whistles hastening his exit from a chastening first Six Nations game in charge.

The New Zealander, who in his playing days turned out for Vern Cotter for Bay of Plenty, did his former coach few favours in his search for a first Six Nations win. But Cotter, the Scotland coach, is too battle-hardened to lay the blame for his side's second slender defeat of the campaign at his compatriot's feet.

Scotland had their chances and failed to take them. Yet again, they face a tournament looking up rather than down. There has been improvement, but played two, lost two is the blunt reality. Next up is a familiar formula; beat Italy to avoid the wooden spoon.

EXPERIENCED

Wales, a hugely more experienced side, used every inch of their nous to get over the line. Once again it was Murrayfield and these opponents - this was a record eighth successive win over the Scots and a fifth in succession here. Two years ago, they came to Edinburgh after losing to Ireland in the opening round, won and went on to take the title.

England's barnstorming second half in Cardiff took Wales aback and with Scotland shining (if losing) in Paris, there were questions hanging in the mild Edinburgh air. Was this a great side beginning the descent from its peak (by Welsh standards) taking on a promising side on the way up (by Scottish standards)? Neither case was proven.

This was an important win for Wales and narrowly deserved. They were the more ruthless - when they had a one-man advantage after Finn Russell's yellow card, they scored 10 brisk points. Scotland failed to take their chances when Jonathan Davies was sent to the bin.

Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton both spoke of relief afterwards. Both also praised Scotland and the progress they have made.

What will cause Gatland some alarm was Scotland's dominance in the scrum, while Scotland's mauling from the line-out also caused the men in red problems. Wales defended solidly and, in Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, have a half-back pairing of increasing authority. Biggar's kicking was exemplary.

It was Webb who scored Wales' opening try, put in by Liam Williams after the visitors had exposed Scotland's backline for being a man down with Russell in the bin.

Davies scored the other, in the second half, taking advantage of a missed tackle by Matt Scott to waltz in under the posts. That stretched Wales' advantage to 10 points with 15 minutes remaining.

Scotland huffed and puffed and finally Jon Welsh crashed over the line in the last minute following a series of attacks by the forwards. A string of penalties had preceded the score and Cotter grumbled that a yellow card should have been shown. It was not the home side's final grievance.

Once Russell had converted, Jackson decided that was that despite there still being a few seconds remaining, but Cotter was not going to clutch at that straw. He was more bothered by Jackson blowing for half-time instead of allowing the television match official to take a look and see if Greig Laidlaw had burrowed over after Scotland's forwards had romped from the 22 following a line-out.

Scotland, hindered by a string of early errors, barely had a sniff of the ball in the opening stages.

Then in the blink of an eye and a blur of Stuart Hogg's grey and orange boots, they were ahead. Alex Cuthbert was tackled by Mark Bennett and stripped by Russell in a lightening-quick mugging. Richie Gray flipped the ball on to Hogg and the full-back was away.

He accelerated past the Welsh cover and ran in a jet-heeled score.

Bennett and Alex Dunbar matched Davies and Jamie Roberts, both Lions, opposite them. But there comes a point when promise has to deliver something more than narrow defeats. "At the end of the day," said Davies, "it's all about winning". (© Independent News Service)

Scotland - S Hogg, S Lamont, M Bennett, A Dunbar (M Scott 59), T Visser, F Russell, G Laidlaw (G Hidalgo-Clyne 71), A Dickinson (G Reid 62), R Ford, G Cross, R Gray (J Hamilton 56), J Gray, R Harley, B Cowan, J Beattie (A Strokosch 59).

Wales - L halfpenny, A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, L Williams, D Biggar, R Webb (M Phillips 74), G Jenkins (P James 71), R Hibbard (S Baldwin 61), A Jarvis (S Andrews 61), J Ball (L Charteris 61), A WJones, D Lydiate (J Tipuric 62), S Warburton, T Faletau.

Ref - G Jackson (New Zealand).

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