Scotland's Grand design

Five Nations' Championship: Wales overpowered as Hastings flowers again to set up Twickenham decider
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The Independent Online
THE ONLY problem with flower power is its impermanence. During the past four weeks, Scotland have grown in strength and stature and, to vigorous growth, they have even added beauty. But for how long would they keep their bloom? The answer after this victory over Wales, their fifth in a row at Murrayfield and easily their most convincing of this season, is for at least another fortnight. Their tryst with the Auld Enemy at Twickenham promises to be a momentous milestone in the history of the Five Nations' Championship.

What was interpreted as the makeshift harmony of a team cobbled together to beat the rump of a Canadian side in spiralling decline has unbelievably moulded itself into a considerable force, quite capable of upsetting proud Albion in a fortnight. If the hunger for victory is a more compelling argument for Scotland's remarkable run than the sustained quality of their play, there are nevertheless some outstanding performers and none played with more devastating effect yesterday than Rob Wainwright, a towering presence whenever he was engaged in the action. As was Gavin Hastings. How quickly have the lamentable hacks who pilloried him changed their tune. Hastings the Old is now Hastings the Bold.

He overcame the disheartening experience of badly miscueing two early penalties when the Scots were still wobbling after a crushing Welsh surge from Emyr Lewis in the second minute of the match which split open the Scottish defence and yielded a stirring try for Robert Jones. But Hastings, and his team, recovered to control every area of play and occasionally to introduce the elements of abandon which had broken the French.

Afterwards, Hastings praised his side's character. "It was a real collective effort," he said. "We had to put that try behind us, and that's what we did. Wales presented us with a new challenge. Nobody expected us to win in Paris, but here we were expected to win. Now we can look forward to Twickenham."

The Scots' plan, eminently sensible in the numbing cold, was to work within a limited framework, first winning the ball, retaining it and then keeping it in sight. The forwards performed their work admirably in this respect and so did Craig Chalmers whose floated kicks rained down on the hapless Welsh defence, providing many awkward moments for Matthew Back in his first full international.

It quickly became clear that the Welsh flourish in the opening minutes had been no more than a fleeting passage, as much the result of Scottish indolence as Welsh brilliance. There was to be no more complacency from Scotland.

Hastings struck two penalties in quick succession before the match reached its turning point which, sadly for Wales, was also the point of no return. Mike Hall broke with blistering speed and accuracy through Scotland's fragile midfield and, with the Welsh backs massed on the blind side and outnumbering their opponents by at least two to one, Robert Jones, the one class player in this Welsh side spun the ball left. Unfortunately the referee had blown up for a scrum at that very moment, awarding the put-in to Wales. He should, of course, have played advantage but at this stage no one could have known quite how disadvantageous this decision would be for Wales.

Scotland survived this and within a couple of minutes had scored a glorious try. Wainwright began the move inside his 22, Gavin Hastings passed to Doddie Weir, who launched Kenny Logan down the left touchline. Just when it seemed that he had run out of support, through the carnage of the Welsh defence strode Eric Peters who crossed for the try.

Not only did it turn the match, it brought into stark focus the principal difference between the sides. The Scots were always a couple of yards faster in thought and deed and, in admiration for them, it is difficult not to feel sad at the present plight of the game in Wales. They have completely lost their street cred. The poachers and marauders, those devious excavators of the ball, are now themselves prey to the muggers. Strange that in a country boasting so many of the game's luminaries, there should be so little light. They had neither the strength nor the instinctive skill to pose a concerted threat yesterday.

Neil Jenkins, for so long the Polyfilla in the side with his matchless feats of goal-kicking, will never be anything other than a journeyman as a runner. There were admittedly occasions when the Welsh midfield backs exposed frailty in the Scottish defence but so swift and sure was the sweeping cover from the Scottish back row that the holes were quickly filled and the opportunities lost. In better days, Wales would have profited from such openings but these are dark times for Wales.

In addition to converting Jones's try, Jenkins kicked two penalties in the second half but it was no more than token resistance and never remotely likely to threaten Scotland's hold on the game or their half-time lead, which was secured following a build-up of intense pressure close to the Welsh line. It was the prop forward David Hilton who was credited with his first try in his debut season in a Scotland jersey. Hastings' conversion put Scotland 13 points ahead and two further penalties in the second half on either side of Jenkins' goals, gave the Scots a margin of victory which did scant justice to their overwhelming superiority.

Dougie Morgan, the Scotland coach, said: "I was pleased with our set- piece play and our ball retention was tremendous. This was a great result, but the win just after New Year against Canada was the real starting point for this run of victories."

Scotland: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); C Joiner (Melrose), G Townsend (Gala), S Hastings (Watsonians), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), G Weir (Melrose) S Campbell (Dundee High School FP), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool), I Morrison (London Scottish), E Peters (Bath).

Wales: M Back (Bridgend); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies (Llanelli), W Proctor (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Jones (Swansea); M Griffiths (Cardiff) G Jenkins (Swansea), S John (Llanelli), D Jones (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Neath), H Taylor (Cardiff), R Collins (Pontypridd), E Lewis (Cardiff).

Referee: S Lander (England).

French win in Dublin, page 7

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