Sad Howley deserved a happier end

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The Independent Online

This must rank as one of the worst games ever; packed with unforced errors and sadly lacking in basic skills. Scotland deserved to win because their front five were the dominating factor, and the way they destroyed the Welsh line-out was almost too horrible to watch.

This must rank as one of the worst games ever; packed with unforced errors and sadly lacking in basic skills. Scotland deserved to win because their front five were the dominating factor, and the way they destroyed the Welsh line-out was almost too horrible to watch.

But, while every win matters, there was little of value to this victory. Perhaps there was some excitement in the way the result hung in the balance for most of the second half, but it was only the sort of excitement that comes from wondering who would make the most mistakes and concede the penalties.

In the end, Wales had that dubious honour. Both sides seemed to have problems with the French referee's strictness around the rucks, but he was consistent from the start and if players didn't have the sense to realise that they needed to be extra- careful in that area it is entirely their own fault.

It was a far from fitting finale to the Six Nations careers of Robert Howley and that great commentator Bill McLaren. Bill enjoyed the Scottish win but was no more impressed than anyone else with the quality of the stuff he had to describe in his inimitable style.

I'm thankful that the occasion turned out much better than the game, and the sincerity of the farewell from everyone was very moving. I thought he was going to be hugged to death.

No less sincere was the reception given to Howley when he was called off the field to be replaced before the end of the game. He has been one of Wales's truly great players but I believe his timing is right – which is more than I can say for coach Steve Hansen's in removing him from the field before the final whistle.

It made a sad end more sad than it should have been. It wasn't justified by the way he was playing and certainly not what a tremendous international career deserved. It put me in mind of Gary Lineker's substitution in his last game for England. It was uncalled for and I'm sorry it happened.

At least Howley can take satisfaction that Wales were winning 19-18 at the time, and in the midst of all the poor play yesterday he did manage to remind us of his brilliance. He could have gained the reward of a try early on when he made a superb break. Had he kept on with his run instead of feeding the ball to Andy Moore I'm sure he could have skinned Brendan Laney, the Scottish full-back.

Wales went on to take a 9-0 lead thanks to the reliable boot of Stephen Jones but it soon became apparent that both sides were struggling to set up any continuity because of their inability to keep possession.

It was no surprise that the two tries that set up Scotland's win were the result of grim Scottish strength up front, with hooker Gordon Bulloch grounding the ball under a heap of bodies.

Of all the Welsh faults, their appalling failure in the line-out was the most glaring. My man of the match, Scott Murray, led the destruction almost single-handedly, and it was too huge a handicap for Wales to survive.

There were one or two flashes from Wales's swift young backs but nothing was sustained. When he came on in the second half, Iestyn Harris cleverly set up a good try for Rhys Williams but he soon joined the rest in contributing mistakes to the massive pile both teams created. Even players of the experience of Gregor Townsend were not immune and, despite all his prodding and pushing, he had a quiet game. The coaches will not have to spend much time wondering where to start making repairs. They just have to go back to fostering basic skills and get this habit of making stupid errors out of the players' system.

For Wales it goes much deeper than that. The whole structure of the game needs changing and I hope that the Welsh Rugby Union's EGM today doesn't turn out as hopeless as their team's performance yesterday.

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