Murrayfield View: Wooden spoon fear for undercooked Welsh

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The Independent Online

It was all so very different the last time Wales were in town. Spring had sprung and a Grand Slam beckoned. Mike Ruddock's men cut loose in Harlem Globetrotter fashion. Such was the slickness of their handling you half expected Meadowlark Lemmon to pop up and slam dunk the opening score. Instead, it was Ryan Jones who started and finished the sweeping attack that has been judged by BBC Wales as one of the top-10 scores of all-time by the men in red.

Jones may well have been voted the sexiest man in his homeland just before Christmas, but he no longer plays for a national side who practise the virtues of sexy rugby. Yesterday it was celibate stuff all the way.

In that 2005 match Wales simply couldn't stop scoring. By the 49th minute they had six tries in the bag. Scotland were swept off their feet. Two years on, in the bitter chill of Murrayfield, their nominal assets were frozen stiff.

In the face of such sterility, the loving Welsh public were turned off in droves. Having battled through Ice Station Zebra conditions just to get here, they were streaming away with 10 minutes to go.

"I'd have to say we're disappointed for them and we're disappointed with them," Gareth Jenkins said at a post-match coach's press conference that was more of a post mortem. "We have to look hard at ourselves. We have to answer some difficult questions around our game."

Indeed they do. Such as where any scores might be coming from. Only once yesterday did Wales even get within sight of the Scottish line. That was in the 13th minute, Ryan Jones getting held up five metres short by Chris Cusiter and conceding a penalty for holding on to the ball.

It was much the same for Wales against Ireland in Cardiff last Sunday. Like yesterday, the only points came from the right boot of Stephen Jones. Two games into the 2007 Six Nations and the Welsh Way is starting to look like a significantly backward one.

As Chris Paterson kicked Scotland to victory, Jenkins had a good deal to ponder - not least, with a trip to Paris next up, the looming probability of a wooden-spoon decider with the Italians in Rome on 10 March.

Then there is the question of a seriously misfiring back line. "It's all about possession," Jenkins said. "If you only have 30 per cent of the game, as we did today, it makes it very difficult to play. You don't have that energy to put into attack when you have to put so much of it into defending."

Inevitably, the possibility of an emergency call for Gavin Henson will rear its spiky head. James Hook only lasted 40 minutes yesterday before making way for Tom Shanklin at half-time, nursing a dead leg. At least the young fellow might be able to live without the names "Barry" and "John" bearing down on his shoulders for a while now.

With the No 12 shirt on his back, the 21-year-old did not enjoy the best of Six Nations debuts against Ireland last Sunday. With Stephen Jones standing not so much deep as subterranean in the first receiver position, he got little advanced attacking ball to work with, fluffed a long-range drop at goal and finished up being rolled back on his own line, unable to prevent Ronan O'Gara claiming the clinching score.

It was much the same during the 40 minutes in which he played yesterday. Precious little possession came his way as Wales failed to build a platform for Jones and his outside lieutenant to direct operations. Only once did Hook receive the ball in an offensive position, and the 12st stripling was swiftly wrapped up by his 17st opposite number, Rob Dewey.

It summed up a bad day in Edinburgh for Wales, the new lightweights of European rugby.

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