Tuesday 20 March 2018

Howley eyes 'mammoth' showdown

Scotland 18 Wales 28 Alasdair Reid

RETAINING the title may yet prove a bridge too far, but Wales are back as a force.

In difficult conditions, as frustrating for players as spectators, Wales played a game that was hard-nosed, intelligent and wonderfully effective, exposing and then exploiting the cracks that Scotland had papered over in previous games.

Along the way, Wales also posted what amounted to a block booking for places on the Lions tour this summer, particularly the superb Sam Warburton at openside.

Timely, too, as it came just a few hours after David Pocock, the great Australian flanker, had been ruled out of any involvement against the Lions by a serious knee injury.

England's failure to put Italy away means that a victory of seven points or more for Wales in the Millennium Stadium on Saturday would retain the championship.

That is a most unexpected opportunity. After coming into the tournament on a run of seven consecutive defeats – extended to eight when they lost to Ireland on the opening weekend – Wales' turnaround has been remarkable.

"We've gathered momentum individually and collectively since the first half of that Ireland game," said Wales interim head coach Rob Howley.

"To do that in a championship is pretty impressive. The players can be really proud of themselves for doing it away from home, too. They created a bit of history winning five away games (in a row).

"England will back themselves coming to the Millennium Stadium, but we are looking forward to preparing this week for a mammoth game."

They will presumably also hope for a game that is markedly less turgid than this one. It produced a Test record 18 penalty kicks at goal, most of them won in the scrum.

That said, only the most myopic Scots would deny that Wales were worthy and deserving winners.

Greig Laidlaw stuck to his grim task, hammering over six penalties for the Scots, but Leigh Halfpenny drilled seven between the sticks for Wales and also added a conversion to Richard Hibbard's 22nd-minute try. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Scotland – S Hogg; S Maitland, S Lamont, M Scott, T Visser; D Weir (R Jackson 78), G Laidlaw; R Grant, R Ford, E Murray (G Cross 76); R Gray (A Kellock 29), J Hamilton; R Harley, K Brown, J Beattie (R Wilson 68).

Wales – L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts (L Williams 72), G North, D Biggar; M Phillips (S Williams 72), P James, R Hibbard (K Owens 60); A Jones, AW Jones, I Evans; R Jones (J Tipuric 48), S Warburton, T Faletau (R Bevington 81).

Ref – C Joubert (RSA)

Irish Independent

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