Scotland’s players had pledged to give head coach Scott Johnson a fond farewell in his final game in charge. As goodbyes go, this 51-3 defeat was brutal. A moment of madness from Stuart Hogg ended this as a contest barely halfway through the first half, Scotland’s full-back shoulder charging Dan Biggar in the face after a kick out of hand for the Wales No 10. Scotland were already struggling to keep up with pace but from there it was car-crash viewing and Wales’ previous record-winning margin of 24 points over Scotland was eclipsed a minute into the second half. Only twice have the Scots endured a worse losing margin.
“The six-day turnaround [from the England match] was very tough,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland. “After losing and with nothing to play for it was tough. For the players to respond and pick themselves up was fantastic.” Of the pivotal red card, he added: “You’ve got to be ruthless and I think we were ruthless from that point on.”
But it was not all smiles in the Wales camp as captain Sam Warburton dislocated his shoulder in the dying minutes. He will have a scan today but the initial prognosis is that he will need surgery and will miss the rest of the season and the tour of South Africa.
With the championship being decided in Rome and Paris, Cardiff had been a mere afterthought. Whereas a year ago there had been the championship at stake, this time it was solely confidence-restoring pride.
Clearly, no one had told Cardiff this didn’t matter – the Millennium Stadium was packed and Wales’ players returned to their attacking best.
The roof may have been closed – pointless on a glorious day – but the points poured in throughout, Wales scoring seven tries with two apiece from George North and Jamie Roberts, and one each from Liam Williams, Taulupe Faletau and Rhodri Williams.
The suggestion had been that Wales would struggle without the injured Leigh Halfpenny but with Biggar’s impressive spot kicking and all-round reading of the game, and a man-of-the-match display by Liam Williams at No 15 it was very much a case of Leigh who?
It was fitting that Williams should score the afternoon’s first try so involved was he in Wales’ offensive manoeuvres. It was the moment where the Scottish defence finally crumbled under 11 attacking phases, the Scots running out of defenders and Williams swallow diving his way to a debut try.
That left the visitors on the back foot, even more so when Hogg, habitually Scotland’s best player in recent seasons, flattened Biggar with an idiotic shoulder charge leading to an initial sin-binning.
Gatland sent on instructions to Warburton to ask the referee to contact the Television Match Official but the referee, Jérôme Garcès, having seen the replay on the big screen, had already made up his mind and converted that yellow to red. With Scotland down to 14, Williams was again involved in Wales’ second try, scooping up a high ball and showing remarkable turn of pace to scythe his way through. He was unfortunate to slip on the turf but popped the ball to North, with only David Denton to beat. The Scotland No 8 had no chance. Roberts rounded off the first-half rout, mocking Williams with a swallow dive of his own.
After the restart, Wales played like they were hunting down injured prey and it took just 58 seconds to further their advantage, North making the most of the numbers ascendancy to slide into the corner. From there it felt like anyone might get their name on the scoresheet. Roberts, with a second, and the omnipresent Faletau both touched down but Wales’ entire bench came on in the space of eight minutes. It curtailed their rhythm and Scotland used their pack wisely – the one area of play where they enjoyed any sort of parity with Wales – to bring a 20-minute halt to the annihilation.
But Wales weren’t finished, saving the best till last with substitute James Hook unleashing a deft chip kick from the touchline, which Rhodri Williams scooped up to score. With it came the realisation of how much Vern Cotter has to do when he replaces Johnson, who moves upstairs to become director of rugby. There was no silverware for Cardiff to toast on this occasion, just a sense of finishing a mixed championship on a high.
Wales: L Williams (J Hook, 62); A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar (R Priestland, 62), M Phillips (R Williams, 54); G Jenkins (P James, 58), K Owens (R Hibbard, 58), R Jones (A Jones, 58); L Charteris (J Ball, 62), AW Jones; D Lydiate (J Tipuric, 54), S Warburton, T Faletau.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Fife (D Taylor, 67), A Dunbar, M Scott, M Evans; D Weir, G Laidlaw (C Cusiter, 62); R Grant (A Dickinson, 47), S Lawson (R Ford, 47), G Cross (E Murray, 41); R Gray, J Hamilton; R Wilson, K Brown (A Strokosch, 9), D Denton.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)