Cardiff dances to a new rhythm

Wales 23 Scotland 10
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The Independent Online

Throwing caution and the remarkable total of 166 passes to the wind, Wales began their Six Nations adventure with three tries against Scotland. In the context of the play and their philosophy that attack is the only form of defence, it was a derisory return. However, what is clear from this brand of rugby is that there is no time for a dull moment.

Nobody has made so many passes and so few kicks - Wales opted for touch on just six occasions - since the invention of seven-a-side. It was breathtaking stuff, executed with a panache bordering on recklessness and the only anomaly is that Scotland, who in the first half had looked as if they were going to be swept off their feet, out-scored Wales in the second, by seven points to five, courtesy of a converted try in the 85th minute. It was about the only time they looked truly comfortable.

Eighty-two minutes earlier Rhys Williams had scored the first of his two tries. It was created brilliantly in midfield by Iestyn Harris, with Gareth Thomas and Martyn Williams providing the link. It was a scenario repeated time and time again, without, on most occasions, the finished product.

Wales might have reflected on their poor reward in the second half after the extraordinary shenanigans of the first, but not for too long. You would need a long memory to recall the last time Wales started a championship in winning style and in such a confident mood.

After the humiliation of last season's whitewash, in which they began their campaign with a defeat to Italy in Rome, the best laid plans of the coach Steve Hansen looked in a more ruinous state than the monuments of the Eternal City.

What has completely transformed and rejuvenated not only Hansen's ambitions but those of his adopted country is the confirmation of the form that Wales showed in the World Cup in Australia, where they scored four tries against New Zealand and outscored England three tries to one in the quarter-finals.

What is more they did it by playing in a way that suggested a reformation of the most remarkable kind. Was it an act of a chameleon or a comedian? A nation awaited yesterday for evidence that it was the former and it duly arrived, particularly in an electrifying first half when all the wit, speed and innovation unearthed Down Under was reproduced in spades before a Cardiff audience that had cause and pride to rediscover its voice.

Wales have begun the Six Nations in the curious position of knowing that they will be losing Hansen no matter what happens on the field. Hansen, of course, had signalled his intention to return to New Zealand at the conclusion of the championship and it seems a racing certainty to replace him will be Gareth Jenkins, the Llanelli coach.

However, a dark horse appeared in the field yesterday when the name of Mark Evans was said to feature on a shortlist. This came as news to Evans, the Harlequins chief executive and a former Saracens coach. He was watching the Six Nations from television in a chalet in the French Alps while enjoying a family skiing holiday and, no doubt, appreciating the performance of the Welsh.

They scaled the peaks, not only when Rhys Williams raced in for the first try but even more so when the prop Adam Jones found himself on a huge overlap on the left wing. The nearest player to him was his fellow prop and club mate Duncan Jones. The try underlined Wales' commitment to keeping the ball in play at every opportunity, an example of which was provided first by Martyn Williams who scooped the ball off the ground and then by Rhys Williams who, although double-tackled, flicked a pass up to Harris and when he moved it left Wales had a huge overlap.

However, a strong contender even at this early stage, for the try of the championship was disallowed for crossing after Gareth Thomas had finished off a staggering move that had its infancy on the Wales 22. It seemed like 22 pairs of hands later and Thomas was crossing, in a very different meaning to that of the referee, for a try that would have equalled Ieuan Evans' record of 33 Test tries for his country.

Stephen Jones, whose goal-kicking remains fallible, kicked one conversion out of three and two penalties out of three but Wales went in at half-time with a lead of 18-3 that they immediately embellished.

Shane Williams, as central to Wales' extravagant display as their other diminutive wing Rhys Williams, came within an inch of scoring as he was tackled on the line by Simon Danielli but a few minutes later Rhys Williams, benefiting from a long pass from Harris, easily beat Dan Parks for his second and Wales' third try.

Parks had come on for Brendon Laney while a couple of the experiments made by Scotland's new coach Matt Williams backfired. Allister Hogg was replaced, as was the new scrum-half Chris Cusiter. Hansen, the outgoing New Zealander, said to Williams, the incoming Australian: "I know exactly how you feel. We were in the same position 18 months ago. Whatever you do don't stop believing in yourselves.''

Hansen acknowledged that Wales' high-octane approach was "very difficult to sustain over 80 minutes.''

What they are trying to do is perfect total rugby. As for Scotland they introduced the new tactic of employing the scrum-half as an extra, illegal lifter in the line-out. It was Cusiter's last stand.

Both sides employed players from the replacements bench in the quick-fire contest, an inevitable result of the pace and ambition of a contest that at times took on a surreal appearance. "We are not yet the finished article,'' Hansen said. Maybe not, but the punctuation is littered with exclamation marks.

Wales: G Thomas (Celtic Warriors); R Williams (Cardiff Blues), S Parker (Celtic Warriors), I Harris (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Neath-Swansea Ospreys); S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), G Cooper (Celtic Warriors); Duncan Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), M Davies (Celtic Warriors), A Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), B Cockbain (Celtic Warriors), G Llewellyn (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), C Charvis (Tarbes, capt), Dafydd Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), M Williams (Cardiff Blues). Replacements: G Jenkins (Celtic Warriors) for Duncan Jones, 32; M Owen (Dragons) for Llewellyn, 62; J Thomas (Neath-Swansea) for Dafydd Jones, 62; H Bennett (Neath-Swansea) for M Davies, 66; Dafydd Jones for Charvis, 72; D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets) for Cooper, 78.

Scotland: B Hinshelwood (Worcester); S Danielli (Bath), T Philip (Edinburgh), B Laney (Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow); C Paterson (Edinburgh, capt), C Cusiter (Borders); T Smith (Northampton), G Bulloch (Glasgow), B Douglas (Borders), S Murray (Edinburgh), S Grimes (Newcastle), C Mather (Glasgow), S Taylor (Edinburgh), A Hogg (Edinburgh). Replacements: D Parks (Glasgow) for Laney, 44; G Kerr (Leeds) for Douglas, 51; J White (Sale) for Hogg, 51; S Webster (Edinburgh) for Hinshelwood, 62; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 77; R Russell (Saracens) for Bulloch, 78.

Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).