Wales edge past Scotland in penalty-strewn game
Scotland 18-28 Wales
WALES kept alive their hopes of retaining the RBS 6 Nations title by winning a frustrating penalty-fest at cold and windy Murrayfield.
A sixth successive victory in the fixture saw Wales move level on points at the table's summit with unbeaten, Grand Slam-chasing England, who host struggling Italy tomorrow.
But Wales could not make any significant dent in England's sizeable points difference advantage, scoring a try by hooker Richard Hibbard, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny booted the conversion and seven penalties for a 23-point haul.
Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw replied with six penalties from eight attempts for Scotland, but it was another try-less experience from the home side's perspective after Laidlaw's boot saw them home against Ireland two weeks ago.
The title remains England's to lose. They have a nine points better difference than Wales, with Italy to come, although next Saturday's Millennium Stadium showdown will provide a fitting, nerve-tingling tournament finale.
Wales have now won five successive championship away games - a record for them - and Scotland went the same way as France and Italy against them in recent weeks by failing to score a try.
The visitors even kept Scotland out after prop Paul James was sin-binned two minutes from time, and they richly deserved their victory.
There were two worrying signs for British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland, though, as Scotland lock Richie Gray and Wales captain Ryan Jones both went off with appeared to be tournament-ending hamstring and wrist injuries, respectively.
Wales made an immediate statement of intent, twice gaining scrum free-kicks before South African referee Craig Joubert awarded them a penalty when Scotland infringed again and Halfpenny booted Wales 3-0 ahead after four minutes.
But the lead lasted just two minutes as Laidlaw found his range with a 40-metre penalty, and then a long-range touchfinder by centre Matt Scott pinned Wales inside their own 22 for the first time.
Both teams looked to keep possession alive, although clear try-scoring chances were at a premium, and Halfpenny missed a penalty chance that would have tied things up approaching the end of fast and furious opening quarter.
Wales then scored the game's opening try after 23 minutes when Hibbard crossed wide out following forward pressure close to Scotland's line.
Halfpenny, who had uncharacteristically missed three successive penalty attempts, slotted the wide-angled conversion, but Scotland replied when Laidlaw completed his penalty hat-trick.
There was a major blow for the Scots eight minutes before half-time, though, as Gray was carried off, and was replaced by the experienced Al Kellock.
Gray's departure was received with sympathetic applause from a capacity crowd, and Scotland recovered to end the half in attacking mode before Wales gained another scrum penalty.
But Laidlaw's fourth successful penalty nudged Scotland ahead by two points, only for the home side to infringe again and a Halfpenny strike gave the visitors a 13-12 interval advantage.
Laidlaw's fifth shot at goal two minutes into the second period produced his first miss after the ball dropped well short, and Wales cleared before moving well inside Scotland's half.
A sharp break by Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips kept the pressure on Scotland and Halfpenny kicked another penalty to open up a four-point gap as visiting skipper Jones received treatment for an injury.
And Jones' afternoon ended just a minute later when he departed clutching his left wrist. Justin Tipuric replaced him, with Warburton taking on blindside duties and skippering the side.
Laidlaw's fifth successful penalty again narrowed the deficit to a point, and with Jones off, Wales needed to regroup in what was a nip-and-tuck encounter.
Scotland, though, continued to experience acute problems with referee Joubert's scrummaging interpretation, and when they conceded yet another penalty Halfpenny stepped up give Wales a 19-15 advantage after 56 minutes.
Halfpenny and Laidlaw continued their shoot-out, each landing further three pointers as Wales led 22-18 entering the final quarter.
Another Halfpenny penalty took Wales seven points clear - he recovered brilliantly from his early misses - before his seventh successful strike put daylight between the teams.
Scotland rallied to stage a strong finish, but Wales kept them out despite losing James to the sin-bin, and hopes of achieving Six Nations silverware for a second straight season cannot be discounted.
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.