It is far too early to start thinking of Grand Slams, but that didn't stop them talking of little else in Wales last night. The Red Dragonhood resuscitated memories of their last clean sweep in 2005 when yesterday they defeated a myopic Scotland here with an ultimately comfortable if not entirely convincing victory. Having beaten England in the opener at Twickenham, Wales are already two thirds of the way to the Triple Crown.
For the most part Wales operated in fits and starts, illuminated by the odd flash of a starburst, and the brightest star in their galaxy was little Shane Williams. He scored Wales's first and last tries – his 36th and 37th for his country – and his second was an absolute stunner.
The Welsh, despite making almost all of the running – Warren Gatland would say that "only one team was trying to play rugby out there" and he was not referring to the opposition – found if difficult not only to break Scotland down but to knock them out of contention. The Scots, following a wretched performance in the defeat by France at Murrayfield last week, travelled to Cardiff with a limited gameplan and for an hour or so they were very much in it, at least on the scoreboard.
Chris Paterson, omitted from the starting XV against France, kept Scotland afloat with an immaculate display of kicking. When he landed a fifth penalty out of five attempts in the 55th minute, Wales, for all their ambition, led by just two points at 17-15. They needed something to put the Scots out of harm's way, and it arrived in several forms.
First Gatland, the embryonic redeemer, illustrated his idiosyncratic side by replacing the trium-virate who had been centralto virtually everything Wales attempted – the half-backs James Hook and Mike Phillips and the captain, Ryan Jones. Nobody, it seems, is safe in this side, not even if you score a fine individualtry, as Hook had done.
It was not, however, as brilliant as Williams's touchdown in the 67th minute, and that was the other special touch that enabled Wales to disentangle the Scots from their coat-tails. It did not, of course, arrive without being cloaked in con-troversy. As Williams of the Ospreys, and five-foot something, dived over at the left-hand corner he was tackled by Nikki Walker, another Osprey and 6ft 4in. Little Shane planted the ball over the line, but did the toecap of his left boot brush the touchline before the try was scored?
The referee, Bryce Lawrence, relied on the judgement of the video official, Carlo Damasco, and he thought the score was good even if the replay indicated that Williams's touchdown was not dissimilar to the disallowed effort of Mark Cueto for England in the World Cup final. The left- wing deserved it for an electrifying run. Maybe Damasco thought the sight of a Welsh terrier scampering through Easter Island was too good to be ruled illegal.
Frank Hadden, the Scotland coach, saw it differently. "I'm bitterly disappointed," he said. "For the second year running we've been on the wrong end of a decision by the television match official. At that point we were still in there, but that left us with a mountain to climb." He was referring to a try scored by Jonny Wilkinson at Twickenham last season. The stand-off was so far in touch he was nearly in the crowd but Donal Courtney, the video official, ruled that the try was good. "I don't intend to make an official complaint against Damasco," Hadden said, "but I want to point out that the guy last year [Courtney] retired."
Gatland's response to this red Arbroath smokie? "Perhaps they should get two video officials on the job." Better still, have none.
Martyn Williams, named man of the match (no disrespect, but they got the wrong Williams) credited Shane with "world-class finishing". "His two scores came at a crucial part of the game. If we hadn't been able to back up last week's win there would have been a huge anticlimax."
After Paterson kicked the first of his penalties, Shane was put over on the overlap as Lee Byrne bisected two defenders, but even then the wing had to dance inside Mike Blair before touching down beneath an advertising hoarding that read "Wisgi Penderyn" or, for non-Welsh speakers, Penderyn Whisky. Is nothing sacred for the Scots?
The main problem for Wales in a first half that was not nearlyas good as the second was that their passing was rubbish. Hook has many attributes but bespoke passing is not one of them. He was not the only culprit. When Jamie Roberts was put clear he threw a pass to a Scotsman; Tom Shanklin surged into the enemy 22 and threw an awful pass to the unmarked Shane; and Martyn Williams burst clean through but his offload found Mike Blair.
Leading 10-6 at half-time and knowing it should have been a lot more, Wales increased their lead five minutes into the second half when Hook finished off an attack that swung from right to left by accelerating through Euan Murray and Ross Ford. Paterson, though, was not finished. The player who kicked 17 out of 17 in the World Cup made the score 17-12 and then 17-15.
The problem for Paterson is Hadden cannot seem to decide whether he is a wing, a full-back or a stand-off. In the second half he switched to No 10 in place of Dan Parks; Wales brought on a blaze of Scarlets, including Stephen Jones for Hook, ensuring Gatland's gold run continues.
Man for man marking
7 Lee Byrne Didn't lead the way or burn up the field but, weak puns apart, did his job very well. Helped set up the first try.
6 Jamie Roberts A full-back, really, and has the pace of one. Also has the physical presence, though, which helps.
5 Tom Shanklin Shanked a scoring pass to Shane Williams in the first half. Could have been catastrophic; wasn't. Lucky boy.
7 Gavin Henson Very good in a quiet sort of way, pulling the strings and making right muppets of a few opposing Scots.
8 Shane Williams Tries 36 and 37 for his country – or 36 and 36.5, really; lovely pace for the second but he was out, just.
8 James Hook Reeled in 12 points, handing off a hooker, aptly enough, for a decent try. Off surprisingly early.
6 Mike Phillips Keen on close-quarter contact: too much so. Shocker of a pass before Hook's try, too, but got away with it.
7 Duncan Jones Decent scrummaging effort and one comedy ruck-flop to concede three points. Normal service.
6 Huw Bennett Struggled a little at the line-outs, but so did everyone else.
7 Adam Jones Like his namesake, but with bonus "hands" in the loose.
6 Ian Gough Escaped the bin for not using his arm in a tackle, just like the Scot he aimed at escaped any harm. He missed.
7 Ian Evans Hard-working in place of Alun Wyn Jones and prominent-ish, in a second-row-ish kinda' way, in the loose.
7 Jonathan Thomas Wilko'd and out last week but not concussed, apparently, so he got back to the hard work here.
8 Martyn Williams That would be why Warren Gatland "unretired" him. No ginger return to action this. Outstanding.
6 Ryan Jones Not the captain's best, with an embarrassment at the base of a five-metre scrum. A win's a win, though.
5 Matthew Rees On late with the game well on the way to being won.
5 Gethin Jenkins On for Duncan Jones to less dramatic effect than last week.
5 Deiniol Jones On late and into the fray with reasonable relish.
5 Gareth Delve On late and didn't snap anything, which is pleasingly unusual.
7 Dwayne Peel Came on and played a wider game than Phillips, well.
7 Stephen Jones Came on and played tighter than Hook. Also well.
5 Sonny Parker On for Shanklin, it says here, so he must have done something.
6 Hugo Southwell Solid enough but as guilty as any of his mates of the odd aimless and costly kick.
6 Nikki Walker The 13th Osprey on the field was... wait for it... unlucky not to stop Shane Williams' second try.
5 Nick De Luca Part of a blitz defence that was in bits in minutes, there was a knock-on effect on his game. Not so good.
5 Andrew Henderson Also suffered in the middle of a flawed defensive system.
7 Chris Paterson Kicking kept Scotland in it but oh, the irony: his lack of kick in the sprints told against him once again.
5 Dan Parks Didn't put his kick-off out on the full this time. Good. Other kicks like the proverbial broken pencil. Pointless.
7 Mike Blair A busy display in defence, including that steal from Ryan Jones. Similarly busy in what passed for attack.
6 Allan Jacobsen Squat prop did share of the heavy lifting but illegal occupancy of the back-line impeded rebuilding effort.
5 Ross Ford Line-out radar almost as firmly off as the hand Hook gave him for the key try.
6 Euan Murray Highly rated, laid low-ish by a decent Welsh effort. Off late.
6 Nathan Hines Yellow card, for slapping Byrne, and fully-bearded rampages about the pitch. You pays your money...
6 Jim Hamilton Right in the heavy traffic, which was rather weighty at times.
6 Jason White Belligerent captain took a bash on the bonce and went off early.
6 John Barclay Outplayed by Martyn Williams, who's old enough to be his dad. Not disgraced, though.
6 Kelly Brown Has the energy to run at contact again and again but not, it seems, quite the power to break it.
5 Fergus Thomson On late for Ford with the game gone.
5 Gavin Kerr On late for Murray with the game gone.
5 Scott Macleod On late for Hines with the game about to be gone.
6 Allister Hogg On early for White with the game still there. Then it went.
5 Chris Cusiter On late for Blair with the game gone.
5 Graeme Morrison On late for De Luca with the game gone.
5 Simon Danielli On late for Walker with the game gone. Cheap caps? In the Six Nations? With its reputation? Seems so.