RUGBY UNION: Telfer's calm design for Scots' Grand Slam

Wales 14 Scotland 16; Proctor Try Townsend Conversion Dods A Thomas 3 Penalties Dods 3
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The Independent Online
Some people are never satisfied, and in Jim Telfer's case he will certainly not be satisfied until Scotland, three down with one to play, have done the Grand Slam. Even then, he will probably still not be satisfied until Scotland take themselves off to New Zealand as Five Nations champions and win there too.

Scottish rugby's eminence grise (a literal description given the colour of his silvery-grey hair) had spent much of the time in the lead-in to the Scots' game at the Arms Park warning how hard it was to win here; after all, it had been done by Scotland only six times in the whole history of international rugby.

The implication was that merely to win - any time, anyhow - would be a mighty achievement, fit to outrank those in beating Ireland and France. Then they go and do so. His reaction? "We are disappointed in the way we played." As Richie Dixon, the coach, and Rob Wainwright, the intrepid captain, went on to say much the same, this disease is clearly catching.

For Telfer, though, it is simple good sense to rein back on the euphoria and in Wales, where they have during these bleak years derived a surfeit of euphoria every time there has been a win, they would probably understand. Had the Welsh won this exhausting and totally exhilarating game - which they very nearly did and according to all three of the above Scotsmen were unlucky not to - we can rely on it that there would have been an explosion of national joy.

Such is rugby's power in these parts, but the oval ball has the power to depress as well as uplift. Another creditable defeat it may have been but it is timely, amid the incessant and insistent talk of a steady revival, to point out the dismal statistic that seven consecutive Five Nations defeats constitute a Welsh record.

That said, the Wales captain ventures to hope this might even be a great (his word) side in the making. "The changing-room is devastated but great sides don't come out of winning changing-rooms all the time," Jonathan Humphreys said. "You have to know what it feels like to be dejected and despondent like that."

Nevertheless the Welsh, having lost narrowly to England and Scotland, should not take this continuance of their revival for granted, if only because such a thing has been heralded so many times. Far better, then, to subscribe to the essentially pessimistic Telfer approach: never inflate expectations, because that way you need never be disappointed.

The team manager's resilient team had undergone a more rigorous examination than Ireland and France set, but though Wainwright suggested he had known all along this would be the hardest match of the championship Telfer made clear his view that worse could be to come when England step out against Scotland a fortnight hence. There is a difference, though, encapsulated in one word: Murrayfield.

One can well imagine the hysteria that is about to engulf Edinburgh over these next days. Not, however, if Telfer has anything to do with it. Folk think I'm dour, Telfer had mused before the match. In that case, what do his players think? "They're think I'm dour." But they love him for a' that.

Scotland are a genuine team, greater than the sum of their parts, whereas the England of this season have not been a team and have thus been less than the sum of their parts. This is why Humphreys, for one, takes the Scots to win, tellingly remarking: "They have a side who believe in themselves but I'm not sure England truly believe in what they are trying to do."

The Calcutta Cup match is the least of Humphreys' concerns, however. Whatever the signs of life at Twickenham and here, Wales will go to Dublin on the day the Grand Slam is decided elsewhere facing the dread possibility of a second consecutive Five Nations whitewash (which would be only Wales' third ever, the first being as recent as 1990).

It should not happen. Kevin Bowring's thoughtful, imaginative and deliberately calmative coaching has produced a team of ball-winners and ball-users the like of which Wales have not had - begging the 1994 champion side's pardon - since the 1988 Triple Crown winners who had the precious inspiration of Jonathan Davies at their disposal.

Gareth Llewellyn and Derwyn Jones are consistent line-out winners, especially when Wales have such a preponderance of the throws as they did on Saturday. The scrummaging against Scotland was unrecognisably improved from the England game. And in Gwyn Jones Wales have turned up an exceptional open- side flanker of a type that had seemed extinct.

Alas, Jones cannot guarantee a sufficient supply of loose ball because, though habitually first to reach it, he is too often isolated by the more ponderous arrival of others. The result in this match was that the Scots, because they hunted in numbers in broken-field situations, were by far the better at producing and presenting their loose ball.

This may also explain why Gregor Townsend, not withstanding a veritable blitz of missed touches, was so much more effective as an attacking stand- off than Arwel Thomas, who had warned himself that there would be downs to go with the ups and found that here was a down. When he fluffed a drop- shot with four men on his outside, an hour gone and the scores tied at 9-9, it was a pivotal and, for Wales, profoundly depressing moment.

So, but even more so, was the reversed penalty a few minutes later senselessly conceded by John Davies, who cost Wales a kickable position by kicking the prone Michael Dods on the head. Even taking the charitable view that there was no malice, it was an act of such indiscipline that Davies could consider himself fortunate not to incur the ultimate penalty for a second season.

Otherwise, Wales sacrificed the territorial advantage they mostly held by the more prosaic means of knock-ons and wild passes at decisive times. When the Scots, less frequently, had sight of the line they always looked more menacing, as when Townsend scored the critical try after 73 minutes. Back, amid the tumult, came the Welsh with a finely crafted try at the death by Wayne Proctor, leaving Arwel, so young and vulnerable, to miss the equalising conversion from a wide angle by six cruel, excruciating inches.

WALES: J Thomas; I Evans (Llanelli), L Davies (Neath), N Davies, W Proctor (Llanelli); A Thomas (Bristol), R Howley (Bridgend); A Lewis, J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), J Davies, G O Llewellyn (Neath), D Jones, E Lewis, H Taylor (Cardiff), G Jones (Llanelli).

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd; C Joiner (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), I Jardine (Stirling County), M Dods; G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling County), P Wright (Boroughmuir), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), G Weir (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacement: K Logan (Stirling County) for Joiner, 39.

Referee: J Dume (France).

Five Nations Table

Scotland 3 3 0 0 51 38 6

France 3 2 0 1 74 41 4

England 2 1 0 1 33 30 2

Wales 2 0 0 2 29 37 0

Ireland 2 0 0 2 20 61 0

Results: 20 January: France 15 England 12; Ireland 10 Scotland 16. 3 February: England 21 Wales 15; Scotland 19 France 14.

Remaining fixtures: 2 March: Ireland v Wales (Lansdowne Road); Scotland v England (Murrayfield). 16 March: England v Ireland (Twickenham); Wales v France (Cardiff Arms Park).