Rugby Union: Five Nations' Championship - Scotland exploit instant impact

Scotland 33 Wales 20 Tries: J Leslie, S Murray, Tait, Tries: Gibbs, James Townsend Conversions: Jenkins 2 Conversions: Logan 2 Penalties: Jenkins 2 Penalties: Logan 2, Hodge Half-time: 8-13 Attendance: 67,500
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The Independent Online
WHEN IT finally came to a halt, the effect of 80 minutes of unrelenting Scottish drive was clear to see through the Edinburgh gloaming on Saturday. It brought the Welsh to their knees on the pitch and Lawrence Dallaglio to his feet in the front row of the press box.

The England captain could not help but join in the spontaneous applause. The wry smile on his face confirmed not just genuine admiration but the fact that the power of Scotland was sending him homeward to think again. Dallaglio and his team will have to fight to keep the Calcutta Cup in their hands this year.

Scotland's unexpected success was much more than a plucky exploitation of another false Welsh dawn. From Duncan Hodge's crafty kick-off to Gregor Townsend's touch-finding finish, both symbolically beyond the grasp of Shane Howarth and Wales, Scotland were a formidable, fully committed and fully functional, force.

They played with nous and with not a little flair but their victory was forged on the driving power of their forwards. The blue tidal wave never stopped. It gave Wales a fearful buffeting.

"It's as good as we've seen from Scotland for the last 10 or 15 years," Gavin Hastings enthused in the commentary box. Jim Telfer, in his coach's seat, was more restrained. "Well, we've got one victory now," the pragmatic Borderer replied when asked where the unexpected result put his team in the Five Nations scheme of things. "It's as far as we'll go at the moment."

Scotland will go to Twickenham on Saturday week at the top of the championship table, though to defy 100-1 odds and complete a Grand Slam as rank outsiders they would have to roll back the years as well as the opposition. They have not won at England's HQ since 1983 and the last time they won in Paris, in 1969, Telfer himself scored the clinching try.

For the time being, Scotland can be content with a significant step forward from last season, when they conceded 85 points and 11 tries in their two championship matches at Murrayfield. The change of direction was evident from the start on Saturday, when Hodge's switched kick-off took the puff out of the Welsh dragon before it even had a chance to fire its breath.

Instead of rewriting the record books by the default of another crushing defeat, Scotland made an historic mark of their own design - or, rather, one of their kilted Kiwis did. John Leslie, son of the former All Black captain Andy Leslie, snatched Hodge's kick from the grasp of Shane Howarth, a former All Black full-back, and touched down the fastest, or joint-fastest, try in the 116 years of the Five Nations - depending on when you happened to start your stopwatch.

From the blast of Ed Morrison's whistle, it was 10 seconds - the time it took Leo Price to score for England against Wales at Twickenham in 1923. From Hodge's actual connection with the ball, it was nine seconds.

It was indisputably, a flying start. But, most importantly for Scotland, it was not a false one.

They enjoyed three further moments of try-scoring inspiration: Gregor Townsend's opportunist breakaway; Alan Tait's superbly angled charge, set up by Townsend; and the burrowing close-range breach with which the 6ft 6in Scott Murray finally put the contest beyond Wales' reach with four minutes remaining.

The lasting image, though, was of an all-for-one Scottish effort: Eric Peters holding up Neil Jenkins on the line and Murray lassoing Howarth five metres out. Peters, an England student rugby international, and Murray, a Scottish schoolboy basketball international, were both toweringly influential. But, as Telfer put it: "The key thing was that we were 15 guys together, a meritocracy, rather than a few idols."

Such Caledonian collectivism kept Tait on the field, after badly lacerating a finger, to make his scoring contribution and pushed Kenny Logan through the pain of a damaged right thigh to kick 10 crucial points. It also gave Scotland the resilience to overturn a 15-20 deficit with an 18-point charge in the last 15 minutes.

"You'll probably say the Welsh were not a very good side and not give Scotland the praise," Telfer said, aiming a verbal dig at critics from the southern side of Hadrian's Wall. "That's the way it it normally goes."

Wales certainly had their moments: flashes of pace and promise from the debutant Matthew Robinson; the wizardry with which Robert Howley conjured Daffyd James' try; the purple patch that led to Scott Gibbs' score; and another 100 per cent return from the right boot of Jenkins.

As Graham Henry conceded, though, Wales were "well beaten. Thought we were lucky to get second, really," the Kiwi coach said. "We may have believed our own press."

That said, Wales will be hoping that Henry lives up to the famous billing the Welsh Rugby Union gave him in their fate-tempting poster campaign. After a 13th defeat in 17 Five Nations matches.

Scotland: Tries J Leslie, Townsend, Tait, S Murray; Conversions Logan 2; Penalties Hodge, Logan 2. Wales: Tries James, Gibbs; Conversions Jenkins 2; Penalties Jenkins 2.

SCOTLAND: G Metcalfe (Glasgow Caledonians); C Murray (Edinburgh Reivers), G Townsend (Brive), J Leslie (Glasgow Caledonians), K Logan (Wasps); D Hodge (Edinburgh Reivers), G Armstrong (Newcastle, capt); T Smith (Glasgow Caledonians), G Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), P Burnell (London Scottish), S Murray (Bedford), D Weir (Newcastle), P Walton (Newcastle), M Leslie (Edinburgh Reivers), E Peters (Bath). Replacements: S Grimes (Watsonians) for Weir, h-t; A Tait (Edinburgh Reivers) for Hodge, 47; B Pountney (Northampton) for Walton, 67; D Hilton (Bath) for Burnell, 73.

WALES: S Howarth (Sale); M Robinson (Swansea), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Pontpridd); N Jenkins (Pontpridd), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); D Morris (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff), C Anthony (Swansea), I Gough (Pontypridd), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), M Williams (Pontypridd), S Quinnell (Llanelli). Replacements: B Williams (Richmond) for Humphreys, 56; M Voyle (Llanelli) for Gough, 66.

Referee: E Morrison (England).