Laney leaves Wales licking deep wounds

Wales 22 Scotland 27
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The Independent Online

Were those tears welling in Bill McLaren's eyes as the crowd sang "For he's a jolly good fellow" before kick-off? If they were, it is to be hoped they were not in anticipation of a classic match to round off the great man's 50-year career at the mike. There were others who passed their own milestones yesterday, but neither Rob Howley, Gregor Townsend nor anyone else could provide a particularly fitting farewell to Hawick's favourite son. The late dramatics of penalty kicks to decide who finished just above Italy in the table were not enough.

Howley looked like making an immediate impression on this, his 58th and last Wales appearance. The pugnacious scrum-half, super-fit by most standards but said to be struggling with a knee injury, made a trademark burst from a ruck 30 metres from the Scotland goal line and found clear water.

Sadly for Howley, the support player on his right shoulder was Andy Moore, who in turn had only his fellow second- row, Ian Gough, for company, and the move died in the shadow of the posts. Still, it had given Wales the encouragement to run the ball, and had their passing been more accurate the Scots might have been in severe trouble.

Gregor Townsend essayed a steepling up and under to relieve the pressure but Wales came again with Colin Charvis clearing up a ragged Welsh line-out close to the halfway line, and Stephen Jones posting the first points with a soaring penalty after the Scots killed a ruck.

Wales continued to give the ball some air but were unable to progress through too many phases, Martyn Williams ending one attack with an ungainly chip. Then Townsend, now Scotland's record cap-holder with 66, probed for a route through the Welsh defence, only to be bottled up and Scotland were offside trying to retreive the situation. Jones doubled the Welsh lead.

Townsend knocked on to ruin the next Scottish foray, which was galling for Simon Taylor, who had charged down Andy Marinos, executed a mid-air forward somersault and retrieved the ball.

Wales's Taylor, the centre Mark making his international return nine months after injuring his knee on the Lions tour, ran the loose ball out of his 22, Howley spun it to the right, the attack was straightened, and Howley, Gough and Charvis drew the Scots off their feet at a ruck, giving Jones his third penalty goal.

Having tried the wide way, Scotland realised that, nine points down after 16 minutes, other tactics were called for. Townsend put a kickable penalty to touch and it paid off with the first try of the afternoon. Scott Murray tapped down almost sideways, changing the point of thrust, and although the first drive was held up, Murray and Tom Smith forced a second wave from close range. Gordon Bulloch – after confirmation from the television match official, Didier Méné – was awarded his third try in 39 Tests.

And the Glasgow hooker did not hang around in making it four. A similar line-out ploy, with the athletic Murray again the initial target, ended with Bulloch finishing off his pack's spadework. Brendan Laney used his failed conversion of Bulloch's first score to sharpen his sights, and the full-back made it 12-9 to the Scots, an advantage extended when Laney added a penalty in first half injury time.

Iestyn Harris, stood down after Wales's 50-point thrashing at Twickenham a fortnight ago, was given a chance at redemption by the newly-confirmed full-time coach, Steve Hansen. Harris replaced Marinos at the interval, with Jones shifted to inside centre, and within five minutes he was guiding a swift Welsh counter attack to set up a try at the posts by Rhys Williams. Scotland lost possession when Chris Paterson was turned over, Wales managed to keep the ball alive beyond the first breakdown, with Charvis prominent, and Harris's inside pass sent Williams haring through unopposed on a sweet angle.

An oft-overlooked by-product of the Grannygate affair in Henry's days was that Charvis's right to play for Wales turned out to be wrong, albeit unintentionally. The Walsall-born back-rower has since qualified on residency, notwithstanding the odd foreign jaunt such as that to Jamaica earlier this season when Wales said he should have been training. A circuitous road to the national team's captaincy, to be sure, but the dragon had certainly missed the Swansea man's dynamism.

When Laney put over a penalty goal to edge Scotland ahead again at 18-16 going into the last quarter, Charvis's leadership credentials were put to the test. The decision for Jones to go for goal, head on to the posts, was easy enough: 19-18.

Howley, quite rightly, got a standing ovation when one of the pretenders to his No 9 throne, Dwayne Peel, replaced him. But just afterwards Charvis, with two men outside him, embarrassingly hoofed into touch and it seemed neither side could close the game out. Unsurprisingly in view of what had gone before, it came down to who made the most errors at the breakdown. Tit for tat, first Laney then Jones, then Laney again nervelessy did the deed with penalties. The final word going to a last-minute replacement, Duncan Hodge, but by then hundreds of the crowd were on their way.

Wales 22 Scotland 27 Try: R Williams Tries: Bulloch 2 Cons: S Jones Cons: Laney Pens: S Jones 5 Pens: Laney 4, Hodge

Half-time: 9-15

Wales: K Morgan (Swansea); R Williams (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), A Marinos (Newport Rugby), K Morgan (Cardiff); S Jones (Llanelli) or I Harris (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff); I Thomas (Ebbw Vale), B Williams (Neath), C Anthony (Newport), I Gough (Newport), A Moore (Swansea), M Williams (Cardiff), C Charvis (Swansea, capt), N Budgett (Bridgend), Replacements: R McBryde (Llanelli), S John (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli) for Moore, 12; G Thomas (Bath Rugby), D Peel (Llanelli), I Harris (Cardiff) or S Jones (Llanelli), D James (Bridgend).

Scotland: B Laney (Edinburgh); K Logan (Wasps), J McLaren (Glasgow), J Leslie (Northampton), C Paterson (Edinburgh); G Townsend (Castres), B Redpath (Sale, capt); T Smith (Northampton), G Bulloch (Glasgow), M Stewart (Northampton), S Murray (Saracens), J White (Glasgow), M Leslie (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Edinburgh), B Pountney (Northampton). Replacements: R Russell (Saracens), G Graham (Newcastle), S Grimes (Newcastle), J Petrie (Glasgow), G Beveridge (Glasgow), D Hodge (Edinburgh), G Metcalfe (Glasgow).

Referee: J Jutgé (France).