Scotland Swat Aside Wales

Scotland 35 v 7 Wales

Scotland swatted aside Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday, turning on the style in the second half. It represents a watershed moment for Scotland, the first time they have won their opening two Six Nations fixtures. Scotland managed the burden of expectation and rose to the occasion, it wasn’t a vintage performance, and there is certainly room for improvement, but there is a clinical edge to this Scotland side. After an indifferent first forty, Finn Russell produced a virtuoso performance in the second half, demonstrating his immeasurable value to the side, creating two of the tries with moments of individual brilliance. But Scotland’s well runs deeper than Russell, and their backline is full of threats; not even the early injury-enforced departure of Stuart Hogg blunted their attacking prowess.

The result ended Scotland’s hoodoo against Warren Gatland, who, despite some small crumbs of comfort, is facing a seemingly insurmountable task to return Wales to where he left them almost four years ago. Gatland will be heartened by the performance of his young forwards, with Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza particularly impressive, vindicating his decision to drop some of his veterans. They competed hard in the first half, turning the game into a slugfest and getting under Scotland’s skin, but they fell away alarmingly in the second half. The same problems of their defeat against Ireland reared their head, poor discipline and an inability to convert territory into points.

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After the excitement Ireland and France served up earlier in the afternoon, the beginning of the match felt like a distinct comedown, despite Murrayfield’s emotionally charged atmosphere. It was a scrappy opening, with Russell guilty of overplaying, while the Welsh defence showed excellent intensity, working hard to slow down the Scottish ball. Scotland carved out the first opportunity, their centres combining beautifully, Sione Tuipulotu feeding Huw Jones, who flew upfield before being swallowed by the Welsh defence. Russell immediately switched the play with a crossfield kick, but Wales scrambled well to snuff out the danger. A pair of Russell penalties gave Scotland a 6-0 lead, with the Scots edging the early kicking battle. Both sides were making the breakdown into a dogfight, giving both scrum halves a torrid time.

Wales enjoyed prolonged spells of possession, but they spent far too many phases going nowhere, with some of their attacking structures questionable. Twice they had opportunities around the Scotland 5 metre line, which they failed to capitalise on; they averaged just 0.5 points per visit to the 22 as the ghosts of Cardiff returned to haunt them. It was a case of prolific Scotland versus profligate Wales, as Biggar missed a straightforward penalty, and Scotland worked their way upfield, George Turner scoring the game’s first try off the back of a maul. Scotland’s maul was a potent weapon all afternoon, with Richie Gray providing a totemic presence in the line out.

Turner nearly went from hero to zero after being pinged for a high tackle on a dipping George North, but referee Andrew Brace made a good decision, recognising the mitigation and dishing out just a yellow card. However, Wales finally took advantage of some field position, with skipper Ken Owens scoring off the back of a well-controlled maul. Wales seemed to grow in stature towards the end of the half as the game grew niggly, as they successfully disrupted Scotland’s flow, with their back row making some impressive interventions at the breakdown. However, they butchered a golden opportunity to score just before halftime, Rio Dyer falling to hold on to a falling ball with the line at his mercy. It was a frustrating half for Scotland, but they held a slender lead despite mountains of Welsh territory.

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The second half got off to a similarly scrappy start, but there were signs that Russell was starting to hit his stride, pegging Wales back with a neat 50/22. Scotland enjoyed a spell of dominance, with George Turner almost grabbing his second try, spilling the ball with the line within his grasp. Scotland started to get their jet-heeled powerhouse of a wing Duhan Van der Merwe more involved, and he began to cause Wales problems. Wales’s scramble defence was excellent, with Tshiunza, in particular, making a good cover tackle on Van der Merwe. Scotland’s pressure soon told, though, after turning down an opportunity of three points, Russell pulled a rabbit out of his hat, darting for the line before releasing Kyle Steyn with a stunning offload out the side door. The try swung the momentum firmly in Scotland’s favour.

Wales’s discipline started to fall away dramatically, with Liam Williams receiving a yellow card after repeated infringements near their own line. Scotland took full advantage, Russell once again assisting Steyn, this time with a pinpoint crossfield kick. With the game all but sealed, there was a real zip to Scotland’s play that Wales struggled to deal with. The Welsh had a brief spell of attacking pressure but were again repelled by the Scottish defence. Scotland scored their bonus point shortly after, an excellent team try demonstrating the numerous threats their backline possesses. Russell ran a neat wrap play with Tuipulotu before sending a crossfield kick over to Van der Merwe, who plucked the ball out of the air superbly, beat Liam Williams and fed Blair Kinghorn, who accelerated to the line.

Wales almost responded after a good period of play where their forwards carried with some real intensity, but Rhys Carre was held up over the line. Wales’s misery was compounded when Scotland scored their fifth try, Matt Fagerson latching on to Russell’s looped pass to score in the corner. Wales’s afternoon was summed up when the clock was in the red, with substitute Rhys Davies receiving a yellow card.

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It was an emphatic victory for Scotland in the end, displaying a ruthless streak in the second half that bodes well for future games. Finn Russell’s second-half performance was outstanding, while Van der Merwe had another excellent game, carrying for 140 metres and beating nine defenders. Scotland’s back line is as good as anyone’s in the championship, with the quality of their passing and running lines excellent. Townsend will also be pleased with the quality of Scotland’s defence, repelling Wales near their own line multiple times. It wasn’t a complete performance; they were a little sloppy in the first half and perhaps too conservative, and they were abject at dealing with restarts. Scotland face France next, which will provide a much sterner test of their championship credentials, but they should travel without fear.

Wales showed plenty of heart and spirit, but they were hampered by the same issues we saw in their defeat against Ireland; poor discipline, too many missed tackles, and a lack of cutting-edge in attack. Wales conceded 17 penalties, a figure that will never be conducive to winning a rugby match. However, the key issue for Wales is their toothless attack; they had significant spells of possession and territory yet never converted pressure into points. There’s no sense of cohesion to their attack, with forwards often appearing at first receiver, while their backs play was desperately clunky at times, with the quality of the passing significantly poorer than Scotland’s. It’s extremely difficult to discern any sense of structure in their attack, which looked very ad hoc. Wales made just one line break compared to Scotland’s ten, and they must try and get Rio Dyer involved more. Wales welcome England next, a game where form often goes out the window.

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