At the end Wales, a hard-earned one-score victory secure in their back pockets, limped round on a weary lap of honour. Scotland headed for the dressing room, possibly in pursuit of Glen Jackson, the referee who had departed moments earlier, a cacophony of boos and whistles hastening his exit from a chastening first Six Nations game in charge.
The New Zealander, who in his playing days turned out for Vern Cotter for Bay of Plenty, did his former coach few favours in his search for a first Six Nations win. But Cotter, the Scotland coach, is too battle-hardened to lay the blame for his side’s second slender defeat of the campaign at his compatriot’s feet.
Scotland vs Wales in pictures
Scotland vs Wales in pictures
1/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Hogg sprints away from the flailing Welsh defence for the game's opening try
2/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Leigh Halfpenny was his usual metronomic self from the kicking tee as Wales game back into the game
3/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Dan Biggar was upended by Scotland's Fin Russell, who was sent to the sin bin as a result
4/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Alex Cuthbert was tackled as Wales looked for a swift response
5/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Rhys Webb scored Wales' first try while Finn Russell was in the sin bin
6/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Jonathan Davies was sent to the sin bin before he popped up with Wales' second try
7/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Liam Williams impressed as a replacement for the concussed George North
8/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Davies' solo try gave Wales an unassailable late lead
9/9 Scotland 23 Wales 26
Geoff Cross looks on dejected as Scotland contemplate yet another defeat to Wales
As in France, Scotland had their chances and failed to take them. Yet again they face a tournament looking up rather than down. There has been marked improvement but played two, lost two is the blunt reality. Next up is a familiar formula; beat Italy to avoid the wooden spoon.
Wales, a hugely more experienced side, used every inch of their nous to get over the line. Once again Murrayfield, and these opponents – this was a record eighth successive win over the Scots and a fifth in succession here, has provided somewhere to start over. Two years ago they came to Edinburgh after losing to Ireland in the opening round, won and went on to take the title.
England’s barnstorming second half in Cardiff took Wales aback and with Scotland shining (if losing) in Paris there were questions hanging in the mild Edinburgh air. Was this a great side beginning the descent from its peak (by Welsh standards) taking on a promising side on the way up (by Scottish standards)? Neither case was proven.
This was an important win for Wales, not only in the nuts-and-bolts of keeping them in the Championship but also in taking a mental step away from their second-half hiding on home turf nine days earlier. They were narrowly deserved winners in what was an entertaining, occasionally error-strewn, and pulsating contest. The stats were as close as the scoreboard in suggesting little between the sides but Wales were the more ruthless – when they had a one-man advantage after Finn Russell’s yellow card they scored 10 brisk points. Scotland failed to take their chances when Jonathan Davies was sent to the bin.
Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton both spoke of relief afterwards; never mind the performance just look at the scoreboard. Both also praised Scotland – although it never does any harm to talk up opponents you have just beaten – and the progress they have made. The Wales coach and captain had this as the strongest Scotland team either has faced (they have faced some pretty weak ones to add a little context).
What will cause Gatland some alarm was Scotland’s dominance in the scrum – Irish and French eyes will have lit up – while Scotland’s mauling from the lineout – this season’s must-have tactic – also caused the men in red problems. Wales defended solidly and, in Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, have a half-back pairing of increasing authority. They guided their side through the tough times and orchestrated the better ones too. Biggar’s kicking was exemplary and caused Scotland no end of problems – Cotter will be putting Stuart Hogg and co under bombardment in the two weeks until Italy come calling.
It was Webb who scored Wales’s opening try, put in by Liam Williams after the visitors had exposed Scotland’s backline for being a man down with Russell in the bin.
Davies scored the other, in the second half, taking advantage of a missed tackle by Matt Scott to waltz in under the posts. That stretched Wales’s advantage to 10 points with 15 minutes remaining. Scotland huffed and puffed and finally Jon Welsh crashed over the line in the last minute following a series of thunderous attacks by the forwards.
A string of penalties had preceded the score and Cotter grumbled that a yellow card should have been shown. It was not the home side’s final grievance of the afternoon.
Once Russell had converted, Jackson decided that was that despite there still being a few seconds remaining on the clock, but Cotter was not going to clutch at that straw. He was more bothered by Jackson blowing for half-time instead of allowing the television match official to take a look and see if Greig Laidlaw had burrowed over after Scotland’s forwards had romped from the 22 following a line-out.
Cotter does have genuine encouragement to take into the remaining three games. Scotland, hindered by a string of early errors, barely had a sniff of the ball in the opening stages as Wales chugged up through the gears.
Then in the blink of an eye and a blur of Hogg’s grey and orange boots they were ahead. Alex Cuthbert was tackled by Mark Bennett and stripped by Russell in a lightning-quick mugging. Richie Gray flipped the ball on to Hogg and the full-back was away.
From his own half he accelerated past the Welsh cover and ran in a jet-heeled score, his ninth try in a Scotland shirt. Hogg clocked up more yards than anyone else and is a player who can lift a stadium, while Russell and the centres outside him promise much. Bennett and Alex Dunbar matched Davies and Jamie Roberts, both Lions, opposite them. But there comes a point when promise has to deliver something more than narrow defeats. “At the end of the day,” said Davies, “it’s all about winning.”
Scotland: Tries Hogg, Welsh; Conversions Laidlaw, Russell; Penalties Laidlaw 3. Wales: Tries Davies, Webb; Conversions Halfpenny 2; Penalties Halfpenny 4.
Scotland Hogg; Lamont, Bennett, Dunbar (Scott, 58), Visser; Russell, Laidlaw (Hidalgo-Clyne, 71); Dickinson (Reid, 61), Ford (F Brown, 71), Cross (Welsh, 50), R Gray (Hamilton, 56), J Gray, Harley, Cowan, Beattie (Strokosch, 58). Replacement not used Tonks.
Wales Halfpenny; Cuthbert, J Davies, Roberts, L Williams; Biggar, Webb (M Phillips, 74); Jenkins (James, 71), Hibbard (Baldwin, 60), Jarvis (Andrews, 60), Ball (Charteris, 60), A Jones, Lydiate (Tipuric, 61), Warburton, Faletau. Replacements not used Priestland, S Williams.
Referee G Jackson (New Zealand).
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