Thursday 23 November 2017

Hogg red opens floodgates for ruthless Welsh

Wales 51 Scotland 3

Rhodri Williams of Wales is tackled by Euan Murray of Scotland during the RBS Six Nations match
Rhodri Williams of Wales is tackled by Euan Murray of Scotland during the RBS Six Nations match
Alex Cuthbert in action during the RBS Six Nations match between Wales and Scotland at Millenium Stadium

Michael Aylwin

If only points difference had been relevant to this one, Wales might yet have won that third consecutive title. As it was, they ended up running in tries left, right and centre, as if their lives depended on it – the carnival atmosphere under the closed roof intensifying with each – as Wales celebrated their 100th Test at the Millennium Stadium, and Gethin Jenkins's record 105th cap, in style. But rarely can any of their wins here have felt hollower.

This fixture is traditionally one of the more entertaining, try-laden affairs of the old championship. This one may have kept up the tradition on the try-front, but it was horribly compromised on the entertainment front by the red card shown to Stuart Hogg midway through the first half for a shoulder charge on Dan Biggar.

It meant that a frustrating Six Nations for Scotland, albeit not without its moments, was destined to end in humiliation long before it actually did. As the tries flowed, five of them in 20 minutes either side of half-time, the cheers may have rung as loudly as they tend to in this great cauldron of a stadium, but the exhibition meant very little.

Any feeling that this game was the non-event of the now-routine 'Super Saturday' at the end of a Six Nations was consolidated by that fateful rush of blood to the head – or shoulder – of Hogg in the 23rd minute. Chasing his own kick, Hogg was too late to stop Biggar from clearing, and followed through with his shoulder. Biggar was hit square in the face by it. The referee did not hesitate to show him a yellow card.

Then came the interesting part. We have all now seen referees watch a TMO decision on the big screen and come to his own decision, but what happened next was new territory. Jerome Garces caught a replay on the big screen. The crowd's outraged reaction no doubt pricked his attention, or maybe it is a referee's secret indulgence to check his decisions on the big screen. Either way, Garces was so shocked by his latest that he marched over to the touchline to rectify it by upgrading Hogg's yellow to a red.

It was probably a red. Hogg led with his shoulder, although whether he intended to catch Biggar in the face with it is a moot point. In slow motion on a big screen, with 75,000 braying fans in your ear, it looked bad. More to the point, yet another improvised precedent has been set regarding the referee and his use of big-screen replays. One day they will be doing it all off the telly.

At 10-3, after Liam Williams's 15th-minute try, the game had been poised, but any balance fell away as Wales ran in two more tries before the break, both exploiting the lack of numbers in Scotland's defence out wide.

Liam Williams's break, running back a Scotland clearance, paved the way for the first of those, finished by George North after a cameo piece of support play by Mike Phillips. Another by Jonathan Davies was ruled out when Toby Faletau was caught offside by the TMO a few minutes later, but Jamie Roberts scored the first of his two on the stroke of half-time, after Davies had danced down the touchline.

North and Roberts claimed a try each after the break, North's within a minute of the restart, Roberts's eight minutes in. The latter was a magnificent length-of-the-field affair after Sam Warburton had won an attacking lineout overthrown by the newly arrived Ross Ford.

Williams – the man of the match in the absence of Leigh Halfpenny – galloped clear in those sparsely populated spaces in Scotland's wide defence, before some smart support play by Davies and Faletau put Roberts away.

Faletau scored six minutes later, strolling in, but by then that sick feeling these duck shoots tend to elicit was well established in the stomach. Scotland dug in and exerted some consistent pressure, particularly in the scrum, but it was futile. Another try exploiting the lack of a Scottish full-back was finished by Rhodri Williams in the last 10 minutes to bring up the 50.

It was an ugly, lovely win, as Dylan Thomas might have put it, a record margin for Wales in the Six Nations, but rendered toothless by that unfortunate incident in the first half. At least they take away a handsome points differential, though. What Scotland take from this Six Nations is harder to discern.

Scorers – Wales: G North, J Roberts 2 tries each, L Williams, T Faletau, R Williams try each, D Biggar 4 cons, 2 pens, J Hook con. Scotland: G Laidlaw pen.

Wales: L Williams (J Hook 64); A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar (R Priestland 62), M Phillips (R Williams 53); G Jenkins (P James 57), K Owens (R Hibbard 57), R Jones (AR Jones 54); L Charteris (J Ball 64), A-W Jones; D Lydiate (J Tipuric 53), S Warburton, T Faletau.

Scotland: S Hogg; D Fife (D Taylor 66), A Dunbar, M Scott, M Evans; D Weir, G Laidlaw (C Cusiter 61); R Grant (A Dickinson 45), S Lawson (R Ford 45), G Cross (E Murray 40); R Gray, J Hamilton (T Swinson 54); R Wilson, K Brown (R Strokosch 8), D Denton.

Referee: J Garces (FFR).

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