Scotland. . .6
CARDIFF Arms Park, on the bleakest and dampest of mid-winter afternoons can be an inhospitable and lonely place. The Welsh have experienced it in their darkest hours but yesterday it was the Scots who were staring across the wastelands. For them it could be a long and barren season.
It will be of little concern to the Welsh in their moment of triumph, rare enough in itself, that their display poses as many questions as it answers. They scored three sparkling tries, two of them by Mike Rayer, who had come on as a first-half replacement for a badly concussed Nigel Walker. The third was scored by the Welsh captain, Ieuan Evans. Three winger's tries, then, on a day when we had no right to expect the ball to travel much beyond the confines of the forwards.
Therein lay Scotland's biggest problem. To have had any chance they had to move the game as far as possible from their brittle pack, but it was only when Gregor Townsend switched to stand-off in place of the injured Craig Chalmers early in the second half that they looked capable of inconveniencing the Welsh defence. By then it was too late and, fatally weakened by the inadequacy of their scrum, the Scots were in no position to take advantage of Townsend's direct and penetrative running.
They therefore paid a hefty price for the failure of their selectors to heed the evidence of the national trial. Admittedly, there was little that could have been done to paper over the cracks left by the injury to Scott Hastings, which was the clearest of blows to a side already so short of international class. But it was at the scrummage where the Scots were ruined and before their next game, against the might of England on 5 February, changes will have to be made if they are to avert yet more humiliation.
Peering into the wreckage of their beleaguered scrum it was difficult to detect any signs of life. Tested and consistently buckled, they conceded a strike against the head and were frequently penalised for collapsing.
As if this were not enough, they lost Iain Morrison. He was the swiftest and surest of their loose forwards, although the inexhaustible Rob Wainwright had a magnificent match, at times performing the duties of two men. Doddie Weir, Morrison's replacement, gave the Scots additional height at the line-out but did nothing to improve their mobility in the loose.
Climbing at the line-out was, in any case, the equivalent of scaling a greasy pole, and this produced the kind of mayhem in which the determinedly controversial Phil Davies, who has a cavalier approach to the offside law, was in his element.
In the slither and slime, the Welsh had the better game-plan and, in Rupert Moon and Neil Jenkins, the more accurate executioners. In contrast, Chalmers was unable to impose his will on the game and was unable to perform even the basic kick-offs, which placed an additional strain on an increasingly overburdened defence.
Worse still was the fact that Gavin Hastings was wretchedly off line with his goal-kicking, missing with four penalty kicks, one, after Townsend had appeared to drop a perfectly good goal, from in front of the posts. He remains a mighty figure in attack but yesterday, in less than splendid isolation, he presented little threat after a wickedly placed Garryowen in the opening minutes had sent the Welsh scurrying for cover.
For the rest he was confined to shoring up the Scottish defence but could do nothing to prevent Evans's try which, like the two which preceded it, was a work of art. Nigel Davies, powerfully influential in the Welsh midfield, kicked into a gap behind the Scottish threequarters and Evans, with the deftest of touches, dribbled round Hastings to score in the corner.
Rayer's tries were even better in that they came on the end of forward craft and crisp handling behind. First, the Welsh won a ruck on the right and, with an overlap stretching as far as the eye could see, Rayer swept over close to the left touch-line.
Having retreated into their 22, the Scots were destined to remain there until the end of the match. Their grasp on the game was by now as slender as their grip on the greasy ball. Their scrummage, still slipping and sliding, was in complete disarray and conceded yet another penalty, this time on their own line. Wales turned the screw and called for another scrummage. A quick strike, a surge by Davies and the slickest of hands across the threequarter line released Rayer again.
Neil Jenkins, who produced probably his most authoritative performance in a Welsh jersey, kicked a towering conversion from the touch-line to add to the four penalties he had kicked earlier for a variety of infringements given away by the stressed Scots.
In addition, the Welsh received yeoman service from their back row although the suspicion remains that, on firmer ground, they may lack the pace to cope with a faster game. Gareth Llewellyn was the most productive of the line-out forwards and on the evidence of yesterday's display there is nothing wrong with their scrummage. Whether the Scots provide the yardstick for any realistic assessment of strength remains to be seen. For some of those Scottish forwards yesterday it was the beginning of the end, but for Wales, perhaps, it was the end of a new beginning.
Wales: Tries Rayer 2, Evans; Conversion Jenkins; Penalties: Jenkins 4. Scotland: Penalties: Hastings 2.
WALES: A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies (Llanelli), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon; R Evans (both Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), G O Llewellyn (Neath), E Lewis, S Quinnell, M Perego (all Llanelli). Replacement: M Rayer (Cardiff) for Walker, 11.
SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); T Stanger (Hawick), G Townsend (Gala), I Jardine, K Logan (both Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), A Nicol (Dundee HSFP); P Wright (Boroughmuir), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell (London Scottish), N Edwards (Northampton), S Munro (Glasgow High/ Kelvinside), D Turnbull (Hawick), R Wainwright (Edinburgh Academicals), I Morrison (London Scottish). Replacements: G Weir (Melrose) for Morrison, 18; D Wyllie (Stewart's-Melville FP) for Chalmers, 54.
Referee: P Robin (France).