LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

Geoffrey Nicholson reflects on a game memorable for its half-back play
Click to follow
The Independent Online
YOU could become addicted to rugby like this - but not until it is polished up a good deal and the good intentions are matched by the skill and composure to carry them out. And not until the openness of the all-action rugby now favoured by Wales and Scotland produces not just an exciting encounter such as this, with six penalties ticking off the first 74 minutes, but accomplished tries as well.

The tries came in the last 10 exhausting minutes, Scotland's a conventional burst from a five-metre scrum, Wales's a more spectacular run to the corner by Wayne Proctor. But even then they did not settle the affair. That was left, in Scotland's favour, to Arwel Thomas's failure to convert the try. The curl of the ball just past the near post was hardly a judgement on the Welsh efforts, but it did stop them proving a point.

Here was that blue-moon rarity, an international in which both sides had been left unchanged since their previous matches, even though one of them, Wales, had lost and each had been criticised for naivety almost as much as each had been praised for energetic optimism. And that vote of confidence had included two half-back partnerships with an average age of 23. Admittedly, the Scottish pair, Bryan Redpath and Gregor Townsend, were fairly experienced, with 32 caps between them. But the two Welshmen, Robert Howley and Arwel Thomas had only three, and were both making their first home appearances in the championship.

It was the Scots who had lit the touchpaper at Murrayfield a fortnight ago, starting with such an explosive effort that the French did not know what had hit them. The fuse must have been smouldering ever since, for their first attack lured Nigel Davies offside and Michael Dods put them in front with a penalty in the first minute. But from then on, though Scotland reproduced some of the quick-fire passing movements that had caused France such trouble, they tended to fall back more readily on sensible kicking and attacks which were largely protected by their forwards.

It was the Welsh who kept up a fusillade of frenetic moves, usually led by their half-backs, and thrillingly promised more than they could pull off: a switch in the centre with Ieuan Evans bursting through just failed to send Arwel Thomas over on the outside; the same Thomas charged down a kick, and was on his way through before the after-effect of the blow from the ball seemed to knock him over; Evans came into the centre, only for the ball to be brushed from Justin Thomas's hands in front of the Scottish posts; and a dreadful pass from Leigh Davies missed Evans when he had the line laid out before him. The crowd loved the excitement of it all, but had to swallow their disappointment when nothing quite came off.

There were moments of ridiculous ineptness when, within minutes of each other, Dods and Shephard collided in fielding a ball, and Justin Thomas and Evans did the same in trying to pass it. Arwel Thomas made one hapless attempt to drop a goal when the threequarters were lined up outside him.

Scotland have no real cause to make changes, and let's hope the Welsh do not make more than a small adjustment. It was marvellous entertainment, so let the good times, and not the heads, roll.

Comments