Wednesday 16 October 2019

Wales stay on Slam track after game of two halves

Scotland 11 Wales 18

Josh Adams runs in to score his sides first try during the Guinness Six Nations clash at Murrayfield yesterday. Photo: PA
Josh Adams runs in to score his sides first try during the Guinness Six Nations clash at Murrayfield yesterday. Photo: PA

Daniel Schofield

If Grand Slams were handed out for resilience, then Wales would not be required to play Ireland on Saturday for the honour. But they are and the Principality Stadium promises to hit new levels of patriotic fervour, with head coach Warren Gatland promising "it will be emotional".

First, the players survived a week of domestic turmoil in which their future employment with their regions came under question in Welsh rugby's ridiculously timed overhaul. And then, after all that, they somehow survived a valiant Scottish second-half resurgence when their proud winning streak and their Six Nations ambition came under question.

Yet again, it was far from pretty but as their coach has said before and he said again: "This is a side that has forgotten how to lose." Their run extends to 13 as they made it four out of four in this Six Nations, even though three of those victories have been far from convincing.

Yet the "W" was everything and Gatland was keen to stress the difficulty of the build-up, with the players having to attend meetings with union officials to try to establish what on earth happens next in the restructuring mess.

"It definitely had an impact," Gatland said. "We didn't train very well on Monday or on Tuesday which is normally a big defensive day. Fair play to the players, they've dug deep. We have talked to them about winning has become a habit. We would probably have lost that match in previous years. But this is a special group which has great character and we showed great spirit to keep them out."

So, after 11 years, it will be Gatland's last Six Nations game in Cardiff, with a Grand Slam, a Triple Crown and a Championship title on the line. Gatland would become the first coach in Five/Six Nations history to win three Slams. If the town was not red anyway, it would certainly be painted so.

"Yeah, it will be emotional," Gatland said. "If we win, I can assure that there'll be some pretty serious celebrations. Ireland and England will fancy their chances of winning the title, but if that Welsh crowd do what they did against England, then it could have a significant impact. It is St Patrick's Day and you won't be able to get a ticket anywhere. It's a dream scenario, and one we believe we can fulfil. Breaking records and winning things is what you play for, because no-one can ever take it away from you. And when those opportunities come along you need to grasp them with both hands."

They dominated the opening period and should have enjoyed a greater advantage than nine points. But do not play down the home side's mental strength in bouncing back to make this an enthralling, at times excruciating, encounter.

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Gregor Townsend, the Scotland coach, will bemoan so many key men being absent and will feel with all their pressure late on they should have prevailed. He was also far from happy with the French referee, Pascal Gauzere, who steadfastly kept his yellow card in his pocket despite Wales conceding five penalties in their own 22. "Their indiscipline seemed to be rewarded more than our pressure," Townsend said. But he saw enough in that resurrection to believe there is plenty to return. Perhaps in time for Twickenham?

In truth, he might struggle to patch a side together. Townsend's already lengthy injury list gained a few more casualties early on as they lost wing Tommy Seymour and full-back Blair Kinghorn. The latter did not enjoy his afternoon, being embarrassed by Josh Adams' feint inside in the 13th minute. It was Wales's first attack and Adams - who with his fourth international try is clearly a coming force in the game - finished with aplomb.

When Russell notched his second penalty it was 7-6, but Jonathan Davies, their ever-impressive Lion, applied the necessaries after man-of-the-match Hadley Parkes affected the crucial break. Gareth Anscombe - who adept as he is with ball in hand still does not convince with the kicking tee - missed the conversion and a relatively easy penalty allowing Scotland a sniff at the break.

Allan Dell, the loosehead prop, was an unlikely candidate to lift what had been a rather muted Murrayfield atmosphere with a charge upfield which involved a few jinks before being upended by Liam Williams. The tackle ended the match for the Lions fullback, who was helped off with a stinger injury to his left shoulder.

Scotland had to cross and Darcy Graham finally took the pass from Adam Hastings for his first try. Russell missed the conversion, but by now the momentum had completed an incredible U-Turn. Scotland's drive appeared irresistible as the match moved into its final 10 minutes but the marvellous Welsh defence not only held firm but inspired a move upfield which resulted in a Biggar penalty.


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