Williams the little redeemer

Two tries for the new hope bring a wretched week for the Welsh to winning conclusion
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The Independent Online

How ironic that in the week when Welsh nationality was the subject for endless debate, the name of Williams - surely there cannot be anything more Welsh than that - should be written large all over this match. Praise the Lord for Shane Williams, this pocket explosion of energy and speed, because there was precious little else to admire in a match of constant movement but frequent error.

It was Williams who lifted the game on to a higher plane as he established himself in the hearts and minds of a devoted nation. This was a case of the good little 'un beating the life out of an indifferent big 'un.

Williams scored two dazzling tries and brought fear to the hearts of the Scottish defenders every time he came near to the ball. His speed mesmerised the Scots and he was irrepressible in his desire to run from all positions on the field. He, more than anyone, benefited from the shrewd control exercised over Welsh affairs by Stephen Jones, starting an international match for the first time.

Jones displayed masterful judgement at fly-half and unlike Neil Jenkins, whose position he filled, his preference for a deep attacking formation gave the Welsh three-quarters the time and space to develop theirattacks. Both centres, Mark Taylor and Allan Bateman, proved difficult to hold and often left their imprint on their opposite numbers.

It was as well for Wales that their backs were in good working order, because they had little to offer in the line-out, and although their scrummage was never inconvenienced they failed to inflict any damage on the Scottish eight.

Scotland's season is in ruins. It is not the registrar they need but the undertaker. Beaten in their four championship matches so far, they can expect no improvement when England visit Murrayfield in a fortnight's time.

They played without shape or conviction, and the confidence of last year has drained from them. Gregor Townsend, the player of the series last season, is turning into the dummy of this one. There was no flying start for the Scots this time. In the corresponding fixture last year, John Leslie had scored the fastest try in international history to set his country on the path to victory. But the first half of this contest at the Millennium Stadium provided the Scots with a sombre reminder of how far they have fallen from the heady heights of their championship campaign.

With both sides favouring a loose game, this bore little relation to the sport at the highest level but, if nothing else, it proved that two poor sides, even on an off-day, can provide entertainment, at times spectacular, and some excitement. But let us not fool ourselves, these are two poor teams.

Wales appeared to have committed the cardinal error of going into this match without a combative line-out. This caused them all manner of problems, disrupting their plans for attack and often placing their defence under unnecessary pressure. In the early stages, however, their disadvantage in this area was fully compensated for by Townsend's continuing woeful form.

Having been switched from fly-half into the centre, he showed no improvement in his altered state. First, he passed the ball into thin air, then he carelessly gave away possession, enabling the Welsh to mount a sterling attack down the right touchline. The Scots failed to clear away from the ball and Jones kicked the penalty.

Apart from the line-out, the Scots' sole glimmer of hope came from Matt Cardey's frailty at full-back on his debut. He endured a number of awkward moments, on one occasion being bailed out by the lively spriteWilliams, whose propensity for showing up in every position on the field was to prove such a decisive factor as the half wore on. Jones proved to be a most capabledirector of his back line, andalthough Duncan Hodge equalised with a penalty for Scotland midway through the half there was constant menace from the Welsh backs. Williams was a sensation waiting to happen, soon it did.

Bateman spotted acres of space behind the Scottish defence and kicked cleverly intono-man's-land. From the off, Williams was the odds-on favourite to reach the ball before Chris Paterson. He kicked ahead, won the chase hands down and scored a thrilling try close enough to the posts for Jones to convert.

When Hodge watched a second penalty bounce off the post the Scots may have felt that this was not to be their day. Instead it was Jones, with his second penalty, who completed the first-half scoring.

The Scots, clearly determined to erase the memory of such an ineffectual first half, tore into the Welsh at the start of the second period, and with increasing intensity built up a series of attacks close to the opposition line.

Townsend and the impressive Paterson made ground and Martin Leslie, who a couple of minutes earlier had been held up over the line, this time crashed over for the try. Hodge converted, but Scotland, going back to basic errors, immediately conceded a penalty, kicked by Jones.

The game continued at its frenzied, frantic pace, with neither side able to control the ball for long enough periods to maintain their convulsive attacks. There were far too many turnovers for a pattern to be established, but there was always the capacity for surprise. Hodge and Jones swapped penalties, and suddenly from the sow's ear came the most glorious silk purse.

Once again it was the magical Williams who did the damage. Combining beautifully with Cardey, Wales went on the offensive down the Scottish right before recycling the ball into midfield. Bateman made ground inside the Scottish 22, and from the ruck the Welsh swung left once again, aiming for the fastest man on the field. Williams outflanked the Scottish cover to score his second try, which Jones once again converted.

The Scots subsided still further with the dismissal of Glenn Metcalfe to the sin-bin in the 71st minute, and Town-send's try deep into injury time was no consolation.

Wales: M Cardey (Llanelli); G Thomas (Cardiff), A Bateman (Northampton), M Taylor (Swansea), S Williams (Neath); S Jones (Llanelli), R Moon (Llanelli); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff, capt), I Gough (Pontypridd), A Moore (Swansea), N Budgett (Ebbw Vale), C Charvis (Swansea), G Lewis (Pontypridd).

Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); C Moir (Northampton), G Townsend (Brive), J Leslie (Newcastle, capt), G Metcalfe (Glasgow); D Hodge (Edinburgh), A Nicol (Glasgow); T Smith (Brive), S Brotherstone (Brive), M Stewart (Northampton), S Murray (Saracens), S Grimes (Newcastle), M Leslie (Edinburgh), B Pountney (Northampton), S Reid (Narbonne).

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).