After the Calcutta Cup, Scotland fans were in despair. “We’ve regressed”, they cried, and the prospect of facing Wales this week did not exactly fill them with exuberant joy.
Wales v Scotland is always an exciting event, full of Celtic camaraderie, punishing tackles and two great anthems.Everyone was expecting a Red Scare, not the tense, exhilarating spectacle the reds and the blues produced in Cardiff today.
Unlike last week, Scotland managed to convert pressure into points and score some fantastic tries. The Seymour try after 12 minutes was a show of what Scotland can do. The 22 phases of play went without a hitch, with forwards gaining those hard yards and setting up the backs with a nice attacking back line from which to run the ball.
Scotland were ready to do something – and something they did because the ball got shipped out wide, was chipped over the Welsh and into the hands of Seymour who promptly grounded it. This beautiful passage of play Scotland produced showed that their backs and forwards can work in perfect harmony and produce much needed finishes like this.
This was a brutal, fast-paced encounter between a pride of lions and the red dragon of Wales. Every kick was chased down and fought for in the air, even if one ball was won by Richie Gray’s face. The speed of the breakdown was unrecognisable from last week; it was snappy, clinically executed and highly disciplined.
Greig Laidlaw behaved as a truly inspirational leader on the pitch: ever present, finding space, menacing, and a nuisance at the breakdown – an exceptional performance by the captain.
The lineouts were 90 per cent better than against England. Nevertheless, Scotland still have a little bit more work to do. However, if they can keep stealing the ball off the likes of 6ft 11 Luke Charteris, then they are not far away from success at all.
So what cost Scotland the day? The answer is threefold. First, the Davies try in the 11th minute is an example of the poor decision making that plagues Scotland and today cost them the game again. The ball clearly knocked on by Jamie Roberts before it touched the Scottish player’s hand, and from here Davies made a lengthy run to give Wales the lead. If this had been noticed at the time it would be a very different story for Scotland.
Second, Scotland’s fitness was at fault. The game, granted, had been brutal for everyone, but while Scotland’s locks and flankers looked dead on their feet, Wales’ team looked spritely until the clock went red. This fatigue cost Scotland their precision and started the mistake ball rolling.
Third, as pointed out by Martin Williams at half time, rugby is not a 15 man sport but a 23 man one. What Williams means is that the bench matters, and this did really show today. Wales had a bench any national side would crave and when they came on they made a real difference. The Scottish subs on the other hand caused more mistakes and penalties in the last quarter than there were in the rest of the game combined.
The game was bloody, brutal, and hard-hitting. Even so, it was not George North’s meowing that cemented the Welsh 27- 23 victory, but his his cat-like agility. Despite Taylor’s last grasp try, nothing could shake the Welsh from claiming their ninth consecutive win over Scotland in the Six Nations.