Cuthbert fires up Dragon dreams of Triple Crown
Wales 27 Scotland 13: Bullocking young wing steps up to the plate with North injured as lethal Halfpenny sets Wales on road to glory at Twickenham
The Dragon's tail is up, the fire is blazing and the next stop is Twickenham, with the Triple Crown on offer. Cardiff last night was no place to be advising caution, after Wales cut Scotland into so many tartan strips. Two down, three to go.
If anything, Wales have even more in their armoury than they did in last year's World Cup. Yesterday they lost one freak but gained another. While George North was forced off before half-time with an ankle sprain, on the other wing Alex Cuthbert nonchalantly assumed the role of destroyer-in-chief. At 21, Cuthbert, born in Gloucester, is actually two years older than North. He is also two inches taller and showed the expanse of his stride to devastating effect, scoring one try and making another.
His contribution was immense, although it paled somewhat on the scoreboard alongside that of a Blues team-mate. Leigh Halfpenny, at 5ft 10in the only man in the Welsh squad under 6ft, notched up 22 of his side's 27 points, with two tries and five kicks. The full-back's form is just one reason why Warren Gatland must be anticipating his second Grand Slam in five years in charge of Wales.
Pity Andy Robinson, however. The Scotland coach may have seen his men score their first try in five games, but the only other factor to console him on the trip back north was the Scottish forwards, who were nothing short of heroic. For 40 minutes they held the edge over Wales in terms of go-forward, with Richie Gray and David Denton so impressive, as they were all day. Then, in 15 disastrous minutes after the restart, the Scots capitulated in spectacular fashion. Two yellow cards, three tries and any number of errors. Already they are deep in another wooden spoon battle.
Wales have no such worries. They now have a fortnight to recuperate, during which their primary concern will be to return North to fitness, as well as their captain. Sam Warburton was withdrawn yesterday morning after failing a fitness test on the dead leg he suffered in the opening win over Ireland. It says much about Gatland's strength in depth that he was able to call on the debutant Aaron Shingler, who, despite playing out of position at openside, let nobody down. But then, with the tireless blindside Dan Lydiate in support it might have been possible for anyone to look good in that background. Positives are truly aplenty at Wales HQ.
In truth, they needed only to play 13 minutes of high-quality, clinical rugby to bash down the Scotland resistance. The first half saw the visitors compete on more than level terms, as yet again the Welsh line-out disintegrated. There was the occasional warning shot from Cuthbert, a bullocking back who appears to glide rather than charge. Yet otherwise, with just the penalty apiece for Halfpenny and Greig Laidlaw, the game was very much on. And the sight of North limping off can only have buoyed Scottish hopes at the interval.
A long passage of play before the break said much about the challenge confronting Robinson. The Scots pounded at the Welsh line and just when it appeared certain the wall of red would tumble, Allan Jacobsen knocked on. A try then and who knows what might have been?
Instead the game began in the second half with an horrendous botch-up. Rhys Priestland's kick was innocuous enough, but Chris Cusiter misjudged it, the ball squeezing under, and crucially touching, his foot to concede the line-out 10 yards out. Two minutes later, Cuthbert was using Laidlaw as a speed bump.
The error was compounded within three minutes. A Scotland move broke down, leaving Jonathan Davies to hack forward and just as the centre was motoring in pursuit so Nick De Luca stupidly hauled him to earth. The yellow was as inevitable as the grimace on Robinson's face.
And so Wales pressed, and so the cover became more and more desperate. The problem about facing Wales with depleted numbers is that their runners come from each and every angle. First Jamie Roberts carried, then came the irrepressible Lydiate, before the ball was worked to Cuthbert. He is plainly more than just a scary torso as he proved by drawing the defender and then getting on the right side to put away Halfpenny.
Bad went to almost perverse for the Scots when Sean Lamont was sin-binned for tackling James Hook off the ball in the 22. Another try was a formality, Toby Faletau's supreme sleight of hand off the back of a scrum allowing Halfpenny to go over on the blind side.
Credit to Scotland, because it would have been easy to implode. They did not, instead going for the try which had eluded them since the opening match against Romania in the World Cup. It seemed they might never score a try again when Stuart Hogg knocked on with the line a metre away and with not a Welshman in sight. When the replays showed it was not a knock-on at all, that just about summed it up for Robinson. But then, with the next move, and with Scotland still a man down, Laidlaw sneaked over from a ruck.
And, for all the Scots' heroics, that was how it ended. Wales will now set out up the M4 with so much expectancy – and the Triple Crown will be the very least of it.
Wales: Tries Cuthbert, Halfpenny 2. Conversions Halfpenny 3. Penalties Halfpenny 2. Scotland: Try Laidlaw. Conversion Laidlaw. Penalties Laidlaw 2
Wales: L Halfpenny (Blues); A Cuthbert (Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Blues), G North (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Blues), H Bennett (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), I Evans (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Dragons), A Shingler (Scarlets), T Faletau (Dragons). Replacements: J Hook (Perpignan) for North, 39; K Owens (Scarlets) for Bennett, 40; A Powell (Blues) for Lydiate, 72; P James (Ospreys) for A Jones, 72; L Reed (Scarlets) for R Jones 74, L Williams (Blues) for Phillips, 74; S Williams (Scarlets) for Roberts, 77.
Scotland: R Lamont (Glasgow); L Jones (Edinburgh), N De Luca (Edinburgh), S Lamont (Scarlets), M Evans (Castres); G Laidlaw (Edinburgh), C Cusiter (Glasgow); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh, capt), G Cross (Edinburgh), R Gray (Glasgow), J Hamilton (Gloucester), A Strokosch (Gloucester), R Rennie, D Denton (both Edinburgh). Replacements: S Lawson (Gloucester), E Kalman, A Kellock, J Barclay (all Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh), D Weir, S Hogg (both Glasgow).
Referee: R Poite (France).
WALES Points SCOTLAND
3 Tries 1
3/3 Conversions 1/1
2/3 Penalties 2/3
0/0 Drop goals 0/0 Phases of play3/0 Scrums won/lost 3/0
10/2 Line-outs won/lost 7/0
13 Pens conceded 9
1 Mauls won 2
8 Ruck and drive 27
60 Ruck and pass 111
154 Passes completed 254
7 Line breaks 5
26 Possession kicked 19
2 Kicks to touch 3
178/16 Tackles made/missed 99/9
10 Offloads in tackle 19
10 Total errors made 8
69 In open play 140
34 In opponent's 22 35
22 At set pieces 23
3 Turnovers won 1
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