Scotland's brave assault on the Six Nations Championship stalled rather badly at a Welsh revivalist meeting in the Millennium Stadium yesterday.
To the strains of "Bread of Heaven", Wales put their own faltering start behind them and looked a vastly improved side from the one hammered by England the previous week.
Scotland, who were reduced to 14 men for three-quarters of the match following the sending-off of the lock Scott Murray, did magnificently well to restrict the Welsh as much as they did, and they put in a stirring finish with Hugo Southwell and Chris Paterson crossing the line for both their tries in the final two minutes.
The loss of Murray hit at the heart of the Scotland's armoury. Their driving maul was depowered and the dismissal also had a debilitating effect on their line-out.
The crucial blow came at the start of the second quarter when Murray kicked the Wales lock Ian Gough in the head. Murray is only the second Scot to be sent off after Nathan Hines, another second row, who was dismissed against the United States on tour in 2002. In his defence, Murray was merely retaliating to a blatant late tackle by Gough, who was sent to the sin bin.
There did not seem to be any vicious intent in the Scotsman's reaction, but as he pulled the red card from his pocket the New Zealand referee Steve Walsh said: "I have no option under the laws of the game."
The Wales captain, Gareth Thomas, came to Murray's defence, saying afterwards: "We mustn't judge Scott on this. He apologised straight away. He's a great professional and it takes a man to apologise the way he did on the field."
The Scotland management team intimated that they would be appealing at the hearing, which is expected to take place in the next couple of days, possibly in London.
Wales were in front at that stage, their scrum having squeezed the marrow out of the Scottish set piece in a crushing spell in the opening stages of the match, marked as much by the way in which great strips of turf were being lifted off the pitch as by the way the red-shirted demons covered the ground.
That spell culminated in the home team being awarded a penalty try as the Scots finally caved in. The fly-half Stephen Jones added the simple conversion from under the posts.
Scotland hit back with a couple of wonderful passages of play where the ball was moved slickly from hand to hand. It was Wales' turn to concede ground and points, with Paterson landing a penalty when some red shirts were caught offside.
Neither side seemed prepared to shut up shop - they wanted to sling the ball wide at every opportunity. But the sending-off took an immediate toll as Wales, admittedly down to 14 men themselves while Gough cooled his heels, thundered upfield and twice had tries disallowed, once for a Shane Williams foot in touch and once when Lee Byrne, on for the injured centre Hal Luscombe, crossed the line with his first touch of the ball.
Unfortunately, he had been on the receiving end of a forward pass from Matthew Watkins. It mattered not. A couple of minutes later, with Wales pressing still, their captain Gareth Thomas chipped over a couple of defenders, slid between them, regathered and touched down under the posts.
A second Paterson penalty kept the Scots in touch, but they were missing Murray badly. The visitors' line-out had been looking shaky enough up to his dismissal but after that 23rd-minute catastrophe they really had their work cut out on their own throw, let alone on the opposition's, where Murray excels. Their captain, Jason White, who had a superb match, moved himself up from flanker to lock.
The second half began in storming fashion with Wales pouring into the Scottish half seeking more points, but somehow the blue line kept out the red tide and suddenly Wales found themselves on the back foot.
A break by Andrew Henderson at a ruck culminated in the scrum-half Mike Blair's pass skidding beyond the despairing grasp of the prop Bruce Douglas and into touch when a try was there for the taking.
That miss proved costly as Wales hit back and the lock Robert Sidoli was put over from close range by his scrum-half Dwayne Peel, who had dummied the defence to create the gap.
A brilliant break by Peel earned Wales their fourth try, and Gareth Thomas his second, after Paterson knocked on, on the Scottish 10-metre line. Although Thomas went over in the left-hand corner Stephen Jones, who did miss a 21st-minute penalty , made it four conversions out of four.
The Wales fans had the arena resounding to their hymns, the effect exaggerated by the fact that the stadium's roof was closed. So was any and every escape route for Scotland, despite their bravura finish.
Wales: G Thomas (Toulouse, capt); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), H Luscombe (Newport-Gwent Dragons), M Watkins (Scarlets), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), D Peel (Scarlets); D Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), A R Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Dragons), R Sidoli (Blues), C Charvis (Newcastle), M Williams (Blues), M Owen (Dragons). Replacements: M Davies (Gloucester) for R Thomas, 77; G Jenkins (Blues) for A R Jones , 69; G Delve (Bath) for Charvis, 67; N Robinson (Blues) for Watkins, 75; L Byrne (Scarlets) for Luscombe, 30-40; for S Williams, 70; M Phillips (Blues) for Peel, 73; AM Jones (Scarlets) for Sidoli, 80.
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Edinburgh), B MacDougall (Borders), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); G Kerr (Leeds), S Lawson (Glasgow), B Douglas (Borders), A Kellock (Edinburgh), S Murray (Edinburgh), J White (Sale, capt), A Hogg (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Edinburgh). Replacements: R Ford (Borders) for Lawson, 55; C Smith (Edinburgh) for Kerr, 55; S MacLeod (Borders) for Kellock, 67; J Petrie (Glasgow) for Hogg, 67; C Cusiter (Borders) for Blair, 61; G Ross (Leeds) for Parks, 61; S Webster (Edinburgh) for MacDougall, 67.
Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand).
Millennium Stadium statistics
* TOP CARRIERS
Mark Jones 7
Gareth Thomas 6
Andy Henderson 6
Shane Williams 6
Mike Blair 5
* TOP TACKLERS
Jason White 12
Michael Owen 10
Ian Gough 9
Stephen Jones 9
Rhys Thomas 9
* MISSED TACKLES
Sean Lamont 3
Alistair Hogg 2
Martyn Williams 2
Colin Charvis 1
Bruce Douglas 1
* MOST OFFLOADS
Mark Jones 4
Matthew Watkins 4
Mike Blair 3
Chris Cusiter 3
Andy Henderson 3
* MOST ERRORS
Scott Lawson 4
Gareth Thomas 3
Mike Blair 2
Ben MacDougall 2
Michael Owen 2Reuse content