Rugby Union: Thomas in residence at No 10

Scotland (13) 19 Wales (10) 34 Hastings Tries Quinnell, Jenki ns, Thomas, Evans Shepherd Cons Jenkins 4 Shepherd 3 Pens Jenkins 2 Chalmers Drop goal
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Arwel Thomas has not enjoyed a good press in Wales these past few weeks: "Too frail, too erratic, too clever by half," said the sages, aghast at his selection over and above the living legend himself, Jonathan Davies. The headlines will be far kinder today. As one Scottish supporter muttered as he left a solemn and subdued Murrayfield on Saturday: "I wish we had a stand-off as bad as him."

From Snowdon in the north to the Mumbles in the south, Welsh rugby folk will be singing the praises of a rare talent who, with impudent wit allied to a bold spirit of adventure, left the Scots for dead on the ramparts of their own fortress. Thomas scored one try of breathtaking ingenuity, might easily have collected a second every bit as audacious and, as the clock ticked down in the final quarter, showed enough cold detachment to torture the enemy with raking, dispiriting touch-finders. In short, it was King Jonathan circa 1988 all over again.

Thomas even managed to survive an accidental but potentially terminal head-on collision with the ogreish Scott Quinnell, which was more than any of his blue-shirted opponents could say for themselves. "He's a tough little bugger," said Quinnell of his pint-sized countryman. "He's just a big bear, really," said Thomas in response.

As the Americans like to say: "If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space." Thomas has lived not so much on the edge as over it from the day he first touched a rugby ball, and that natural exuberance in an age of unremitting pragmatism has brought him more brickbats than bouquets.

"There were times last season when I wondered whether it was worth all the hassle," he said, looking back on his previous, miserably impotent, Five Nations appearance in Dublin 10 months ago. "It got to the point where I couldn't imagine any up-and-coming youngster wanting to leave himself open to all the flak. A degree of criticism was always likely for anyone following in so many famous footsteps - the Welsh No 10 shirt is special, after all - but the extent of it definitely took away some of the enjoyment.

"This, though, is a nice feeling. I didn't make many mistakes out there and that made all the difference. I just hope it stops people in Wales being so pessimistic about their rugby." He can rest assured on that score. The danger now is quite the opposite, for the Welsh will expect, demand even, all manner of pyrotechnics against the Irish in Cardiff on Saturday week.

They may ask too much, but with Thomas on a roll and a pair of centres outside him who have already laid down a marker for Lions selection this summer, the Welsh midfield has a potent look to it. Scott Gibbs and Allan Bateman were superb at Murrayfield, their rugby league know-how evident in both attack and defence.

There was something devilishly Samoan about the dynamic ferocity of Gibbs' tackling - when he hit Craig Chalmers with the kitchen sink as early as the seventh minute, the shockwaves probably registered in Apia and Moamoa as well as Swansea and Melrose - but there was finesse too, especially when Bateman took his colleague's pass at the optimum angle to pave the way for Quinnell's first-half try. Once they hit top gear, the Welsh had options coming out of their ears and the Scots, fragile up front and unusually flummoxed behind, fell apart in spectacular fashion after the break.

The first coffin nail was hammered in by Thomas. Denied a presumptuous chip-and-chase try by the covering Gary Armstrong, the stand-off responded with a scalding break from near half-way, leaving half a dozen opponents eating grass and creating a momentary opening for Ieuan Evans. Although the attack fizzled out, the statement of intent was crystal clear.

Within a minute, Neil Jenkins was over in the left corner after some hungry running from Evans. Cue Thomas again: kicking the ball out of the hands of a bemused Gregor Townsend and then reclaiming the rebound off Kenny Logan, he sprinted clear for an inspirational solo try. When Evans took advantage of Rowen Shepherd's hesitancy under the high ball from the restart, the 12-year wait for a Welsh win in Edinburgh was over.

As Rob Wainwright, the Scottish captain, pointed out afterwards, three tries in five minutes - two of them direct results of lax concentration - left his side with nowhere to turn. "For much of the game the two teams were evenly matched," he insisted. "We've only ourselves to blame, for our lapses were unforgivable."

Which, of course, was exactly what the Scots needed to hear. The search for salvation has always been the automatic response to a heavy defeat, and Wainwright's understandable desire to play a positive psychological card led him to pin this latest setback on self-inflicted wounds rather than credit the Welsh with any innate superiority.

But the Scots have more problems than their captain was willing to concede. Wainwright himself was outstanding: when he was not racing on to careless Welsh line-out taps or roaring headlong into the opposition 22 with red- shirted defenders clinging on to him for dear life, he was pinching the ball at the bottom of countless rucks or keeping long-range attacks alive with his remarkably prescient brand of support work. Impressive, yes, but not enough to paper over the cracks.

The Scottish tight five were even more anonymous than when Dean Richards single-handedly took them to the cleaners in last year's Calcutta Cup match. Tony Stanger apart, there was little to write home about outside as Townsend's attempts to conjure an opening or two were constantly betrayed by handling of the Teflon variety.

With Twickenham on the horizon, the Scots are already up against the eight ball. "The Welsh have just won at Murrayfield for the first time in 12 years so there is no reason why we can't go to London and win for the first time in 14," Wainwright said. It did not sound very convincing.

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd (Melrose); T Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), G Townsend (Northampton), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Newcastle); D Hilton (Bath), G Ellis (Currie), M Stewart (Northampton), D Weir (Newcastle), A Reed (Wasps), P Walton (Northampton), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), M Wallace (Glasgow High/Kelvinside). Replacements: S Monro (GHK) for Reed, 54; D Stark (Melrose) for Chalmers, 77.

WALES: N Jenkins (Pontypridd); I Evans (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), G Thomas (Bridgend); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), D Young (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Rowley (Pontypridd), S Williams (Neath), S Quinnell (Richmond), C Charvis (Swansea). Replacements: C Quinnell (Richmond) for Rowley, 66; G Jones (Cardiff) for Charvis, 75; J Davies (Cardiff) for Gibbs, 79.

Referee: B Smith (Ireland).

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