Rugby Union: Wales find a Wembley way

Five Nations: Scotland left on Celtic fringe as fighting Irish are left to ponder what might have been; Wales 19 Scotland 13 Tries: Proctor Tries: Cronin Cons: A Thomas Townsend Pens: N Jenkins Pen: Chalmers A Thomas 3 ; Half-time: 9-13 Attendance: 75,000
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THIS was the game that Scotland badly wanted to win and that Wales could not afford to lose. And it was perhaps the greater hunger and longing of the Welsh that prevailed. It was also a contest of sustained speed and excitement which proves that two relatively poor sides can, on a good day, provide a wonderfully enjoyable spectacle along with the sharply competitive edge which was missing from the one-sided routs at Twickenham and Murrayfield a fortnight ago.

Second division fare it may have been, littered as it was with basic mistakes and tactical naivete. Yet it was played throughout at such a frantic pace that mistakes were inevitable. They merely added to the excitement of a match which was so high in honest endeavour and passionate commitment although the Welsh, admittedly, took much longer to reveal it.

Perhaps they had been caught off-guard by the sheer audacity of the imagination and adventure shown by the Scots who, with the wind at their backs, in the first half launched their threequarters in attacking formation from all parts of the field. Bless my soul, from the very kick-off Derrick Lee, the Scottish full-back, sliced through his own line and careered 40 yards up-field before being brought down.

The Welsh attacks, by comparison, were at this point ponderous and predictable, stunted mainly by the failure of their forwards to win decent ball. Their line-out was an unproductive shambles and on the few occasions good possession came their way the pack had the greatest difficulty in clearing the ball.

This must have been hugely frustrating for the two Welsh centres Allan Bateman and Scott Gibbs, who were fully primed to run at the Scottish midfield when they thought there might be the glimmer of a weakness. But it was the Scots who were doing the attacking.

With a host of manoeuvres which had only just progressed beyond the experimental stage, they swept forward at bewildering speed and with an admirable degree of accuracy. Shaun Longstaff, in his first international, ran through almost an entire season's work for a Scottish wing in the first 10 minutes. This included a major part in Scotland's first try which was a heartening reflection of their rising confidence.

As before, it began deep inside the Scottish half. Craig Chalmers found Gregor Townsend with a long pass. The centre took out two Welshmen with his pass to Longstaff who sped around Bateman and shot fully 50 yards before slipping the scoring pass back to Townsend for a wonderful try.

Neil Jenkins, who shortly afterwards left the field injured to be replaced by Arwel Thomas, and Chalmers swapped penalties before Damian Cronin scored the Scots' second try 10 minutes before half-time.

Having decided on their tactics, the Scots refused to be deflected from them. With their forwards and backs moving fluently in sweet concert, they set up another attack only to be denied by the Welsh coming over the top. Chalmers, within range of goal, opted instead to kick for touch. Doddie Weir won the line-out cleanly and following a drive and a number of false starts for the Welsh line, Cronin scrambled over.

Crucially, however, the Scots relaxed and by conceding two penalties in as many minutes before the interval, both converted by Thomas, they allowed the Welsh, who had been looking increasingly ragged, back into the game.

The dragon was at last breathing fire. Robert Howley, whose shining light had been so dim throughout the first half, began to make the right decisions. The considerable imprint of Bateman and Gibbs was left on a growing number of Scottish defenders as the Welsh forwards began at last to find some momentum in their driving. Fatally, the Scots, expecting Gibbs to pass, allowed him too much room, and with Gareth and Arwel Thomas joining the movement the fly-half's pass put Wayne Proctor over in the corner. Arwel Thomas, with the sweetest of strikes, converted from the touchline to give Wales the lead for the first time in the match.

The Scots refused to buckle. Nor did they see any need to tighten up. Rowen Shepherd, the replacement full-back for Lee, broke clean through but failed to see Adam Roxburgh pounding up beside him. There was still danger, though, as he kicked ahead and the Scots swarmed through only to be thwarted by Bateman's instinctive covering. The centre even had the presence of mind and, more remarkably, the energy to set up a counter- attack. Then Alan Tait broke free only to be denied what would surely have been a try by Rob Appleyard's last-ditch ankle tap. The flanker was injured but he had done his work.

Gradually the devil was draining from the Scots and as the game went in to its final breathless minutes it was the Welsh who looked the sharper. Howley broke thrillingly down the right to put Arwel Thomas away and with four minutes remaining the fly-half, who had missed four penalty kicks at goal during the match, converted to give Wales the cushion of comfort they so earnestly sought.

But win or lose yesterday, whether it was Wembley or Paris, this was a day which proved that reports of the demise of the Five Nations are premature. It is alive, kicking and in the rudest of health.

Wales: K Morgan (Pontypridd); W Proctor (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), G Thomas (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); A Lewis (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), M Voyle (Llanelli), A Moore (Swansea), R Appleyard (Swansea), C Charvis (Swansea), K Jones (Ebbw Vale). Replacements: A Thomas (Swansea) for N Jenkins, 18; S Quinnell (Richmond) for Appleyard, 59; J Humphreys (Cardiff) for G Jenkins, 69.

Scotland: D Lee (London Scottish); T Stanger (Hawick), G Townsend (Northampton), A Tait (Newcastle), S Longstaff (Dundee HSFP); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Newcastle, capt); D Hilton (Bath), G Bulloch (West of Scotland), M Stewart (Northampton), D Cronin (Wasps), D Weir (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Dundee HSFP), E Peters (Bath), A Roxburgh (Kelso). Replacements: R Shepherd (Melrose) for Lee, 28; S Grimes (Watsonians) for Cronin, 58, G Graham (Newcastle) for Stewart, 66.

Referee: J Dume (France).