Wednesday 22 January 2020

Williams' cruel heart-breaker

Wales 31
Scotland 24

Shane Williams celebrates scoring last-gasp Wales' match-winning try against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
Shane Williams celebrates scoring last-gasp Wales' match-winning try against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium. Photo: Getty Images

Steve James

You could not make this up. Finishes just do not come any more dramatic as the mercurial wing, Shane Williams, dived over under the posts from the very last play of the match to snatch a victory for Wales that looked so distant just four minutes earlier when they were 24-14 down.

It was impossibly cruel on Scotland. Theirs was a performance of immense bravery in the face of a raft of injuries, including an ill-timed early blow for Chris Paterson on the occasion of his 100th cap and a much more serious-looking setback for wing Thom Evans, carried off on a stretcher. The Scots employed four different full-backs and finished the game with just four backs on the field, and, crucially, only 13 men, with Scott Lawson and Phil Godman both in the sin-bin. There were 12 seconds of normal time remaining when Godman (with head heavily bandaged) tripped Lee Byrne after he chipped ahead and was sent on his way.

Stephen Jones kicked the penalty to tie the scores.

There was one play left and replacement scrum-half Mike Blair -- who played a whole half on the wing -- had to take the kick-off. Unsurprisingly, it was not very good. Wales claimed the ball and Jones kicked high to the right where the bounce evaded Leigh Halfpenny but fell to Byrne. With Scotland so depleted, Wales were always going to win from there. They just had to keep the ball. They remained patient, and eventually Williams was free. Right arm aloft, diving way before the line, he was over to cue astonishing scenes of Welsh celebration.

Quite why they needed such a rescue act will trouble coach Warren Gatland, who could cop considerable flak even though his side prevailed. His selection appeared flawed beforehand and the removal of the woeful scrum-half, Gareth Cooper, at half-time confirmed as much.

This was another low-quality match full of errors. It produced great entertainment, but will not make for good viewing in terms of analysis. Only Jamie Roberts for Wales will be happy with his overall performance. He was quite outstanding.

For Scotland there was confirmation that they possess a young back row of world-class quality. Kelly Brown, John Beattie and John Barclay thoroughly outplayed their Welsh counterparts. There was power, awareness and skill. Collectively they were a joy to watch.

Behind them Dan Parks showed Wales' capital that next season he will add a strong hand to the Blues' tiller, with a display of calm authority to collect 12 points. His second dropped goal, from 50 metres, was a beauty.

Scotland had not scored a try for three Tests, yet it took them just over eight minutes to do so yesterday. It was a gift. When flanker Barclay took the ball in midfield his only thought would have been of recycling. He might have hoped to have breached the gain line, but score? No chance. But that was where James Hook and Cooper came in. Between them they made such a hash of the tackle it left Barclay storming unimpeded to the line.

There was charity in Scotland's second too. Byrne dithered over collecting a kick, then shipped on to Shane Williams. The winger's clearance missed touch, so he tried to tackle Beattie in redemption and got run over in a flashback to the days when Williams was considered too small. The ball was then moved left, with hooker Ross Ford prominent, and Parks' left-foot grubber found replacement max Evans storming on to it in the corner.

Scotland were 15-3 up inside the first quarter. Only Roberts' thundering thrusts and Stephen Jones' boot were keeping Wales in it, and Jones kicked a third penalty on half-time to make it 18-9.

Byrne was penalised at the resumption to make it 21-9. It was a long road back, and you wonder if, had Max Evans not knocked on Andy Powell's telegraphed pass soon after, it would have been too long. As it was, Byrne scored Wales' first try just before the hour mark after Shane Williams had made good ground down the right and drawn last man Parks.

When Roberts crossed with six minutes left but was called up for running into both Sam Warburton and Hook, you sensed it was just not to be for Wales. But Halfpenny was freed on the right by Byrne and did exceptionally well to run halfway to the posts behind the line. Stephen Jones was able to convert and presage that frantic, breathless finale.

Scorers -- Wales: L Byrne, L Halfpenny, S Williams try each; S Jones 4 pens, 2 cons Scotland: J Barclay, M Evans try each; C Paterson con; D Parks 2 pens, 2 d-g

Wales: L Byrne, L Halfpenny, J Hook, J Roberts, S Williams, S Jones, G Cooper (R Rees 40), P James (G Jenkins 49), G Williams (H Bennett 48), A Jones, J Thomas, A Jones, A Powell (B Davies 49), M Williams (S Warburton 67), R Jones.

Scotland: C Paterson (M Evans 29), T Evans (M Blair 35), S Lamont, G Morrison, R Lamont, D Parks (A MacDonald 80), C Cusiter, A Dickinson, R Ford (S Lawson 56), E Murray, J Hamilton, A Kellock, K Brown (MacDonald 49-56), J Barclay, J Beattie.

Referee: G Clancy (IRFU)

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