Momentum takes Hansen halfway to happiness

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The Independent Online

So the Welsh performances against New Zealand and England in the World Cup were not a flirtation with flair and fury. On this evidence, the Millennium Stadium is no longer a No Smoking zone - the Welsh Dragons are breathing fire again.

Wales coach Steve Hansen declared himself satisfied, at least with the first half. "There was enough today to show me that the momentum from the World Cup is still there," he said. "The first half was fine, the second was scrappy.

"Conceding the try at the end just summed up the second half." But overall Hansen felt it sent out the right signals to the other countries in the Six Nations. "The message from today's performance is that the others have to continue to respect us, and that is all we can ask."

Hansen also had a message for Matt Williams, his opposite number. "I saw him in the changing room afterwards and I told him I knew exactly how he felt, but I said Scotland must not stop believing in themselves. It takes time."

Williams found some crumbs of comfort. "I think that gives us a clear indication of where we are. I have said all along that we have a lot of work to do." But he added: "Certain aspects of our game were very good, our line-out and scrum and our set play defence and our courage was also good. And in the second half we played with much better control."

Williams seemed pleased with the newcomers, not that he would want to be critical in public. None of them distinguished themselves, as much probably to do with first night nerves. Poor Chris Cusiter had a torrid time in the first half. Too often early on, at ruck and set piece, scrum-half Cusiter was caught before, or during, delivery. True, there were one or two breaks from him, but his basic job of supply was what was most demanded of him. Without that the Scottish backs were rendered weaponless. Thankfully he improved as the game wore on but by then there was too much to do and precious little time to attempt it.

New centre Tom Philip managed a couple of breaks in the rare Scottish forays into Welsh territory, but he was also penalised for an overly high tackle on Shane Williams. And anyway, it was his, and everyone's defensive skills that were needed; unfortunately, too many of the Scots missed vital first-up tackles and they paid dearly.

The third new boy, openside flanker Allister Hogg, was replaced within the hour without having caught the eye, but by that time Wales were well and truly in command.

The Welsh back three threatened for much of the game, as Rhys Williams demonstrated with two tries - his third-minute one sparked by some brilliant footwork and handicraft from Iestyn Harris. Pre-match anticipation in the Principality was further justified when the bulky tighthead prop Adam Jones, all hair-do and hulk, scored his first international try in the 15th minute.

Wales, and Harris in particular, were wonderful to watch, ever ready to attack. The Welsh forwards - ablaze with desire, rampant in the loose, secure in defence - provided a superb platform of possession for their excellent backs to use.

Harris was masterful, whether taking on the Scots up the middle, his dancing feet a blur of bewildering sidesteps and shuffles, or in launching his wide boys, or in sending wicked kicks over the heads of the advancing Scots to gain precious ground.

It may be too early to start shouting from the rooftop of the Millennium Stadium that Wales are an international force once more, but it can at least be whispered. Lips remain sealed on the Scots. They need more time.