Scotland are making a habit of letting Wales off the hook. A year ago in Cardiff they contrived to snatch a 31-24 defeat from the jaws of a 24-14 lead with three minutes of time remaining. This time they got their capitulation in early.
With eight minutes on the clock yesterday teatime, Scotland's stand-offish defence ushered James Hook through and Wales's back of all trades – starting his first international at stand-off for almost two years – accepted the opportunity to tee-up Shane Williams for the first of his two tries. There followed 11 points from the right boot of Hook in the next 14 minutes, through a conversion and three penalties. And that was just about that: game, set and match to Warren Gatland's underachievers.
From 16-0 up, Hook, Williams and Co could afford to coast to a victorythat will ease the pressure on themselves and on their head coach. In the final quarter Hook kicked a fourth penalty and Williams touched down his 53rd try for his country. All of which added up to a fortnight of breathing space for Gatland and Wales before they head to Rome.
"We've been under the pump with our backs to the wall a bit but it's how you come out fighting that counts," Gatland said. "When the boys put on David Bowie's [and Queen's] 'Under Pressure' on the bus, you had to laugh. I haven't been able to get that song out of my head for the past two days."
It was Wales's first win in nine matches, since a 33-10 success against Italy in Cardiff at the end of last year's Six Nations. It was achieved with an ease that pained Andy Robinson, Scotland's head coach. His team had a two-man advantage towards the end of the first half, with Bradley Davies and Lee Byrne in the bin of sin, but all they could manage was a Dan Parks penalty.
Having run in three tries against France in Paris the previous Saturday, Scotland failed to cross the whitewash on home ground. All they could manage in the second half was a second Parks penalty. "That was unacceptable," Robinson said. "We made too many errors, particularly in those first 20 minutes. We've gone a couple of steps back today."
The first backward step came before kick-off, with the withdrawal from the home XV of the second-row forward Richie Gray. The Glasgow player was suffering from an upset stomach and without him there was a queasy feeling about Scotland's play from the off, some wayward kicking out of hand from Parks and Hugo Southwell doing nothing to settle them.
It was after a Parks kick had been charged down by the prop Paul James that Wales launched the attack that led to their breakthrough score. The No 8 Ryan Jones provided the initial momentum with a break from the back of a scrum some 35 metres out and after stretching play out left and then out right Hook jinked over the gain line, handing off the Scotland loosehead prop, Allan Jacobsen, and eluding the grasp of the scrum-half, Rory Lawson, before feeding the ball to Williams, who ran under the posts unopposed.
Hook kicked the conversion and followed up with three penalties as Scotland struggled to get a grip at the breakdown – and elsewhere, for that matter. With 22 minutes on the clock they were 16-0 down and by that stage they were without Southwell, the Stade Français full-back having left the field after taking a boot in the face while challenging for a garryowen with Byrne.
The Irish referee, George Clancy, kept his yellow card close to his chest until Sean Lamont, Southwell's replacement, went on a charge up the right in the 24th minute. Davies came into the side of a ruck and hoofed the ball clear. Four minutes later the Cardiff Blues lock had company in the cooler after Byrne lassoed Max Evans with a neck-high tackle. Still, Wales got off cheaply. Parks kicked one penalty but slipped while attempting another, leaving the visitors 16-3 up at the interval.
The second half was little more than a formality. It might have been different had the Scotland openside, John Barclay, not spilled the ball with Evans free on the overlap in the 63rd minute. As it was, Wales remained in the comfort zone, Williams scoring his second try after gathering a chip from the centre Jonathan Davies.
Scotland H Southwell (S Lamont, 21); N Walker, N De Luca, M Evans; D Parks, R Lawson (M Blair, 47); A Jacobsen, R Ford (S Lawson, 67), E Murray (M Low, 47), N Hines, A Kellock (capt; S MacLeod, 71), K Brown, R Vernon, J Barclay.
Wales L Byrne (R Priestland, 76); M Stoddart, J Roberts, J Davies, S Williams; J Hook (S Jones, 67), M Phillips (T Knoyle, 76); P James, M Rees (capt; R Hibbard, 70), C Mitchell), B Davies, AW Jones (J Turnbull, 72), D Lydiate (J Thomas, 54), R Jones, S Warburton.
Referee G Clancy (Ireland).
Pens: Parks 2
Tries: Williams 2
Pens: Hook 4