DAVID BARNES @ Principality Stadium
THE DODDIE WEIR CUP is staying in Cardiff, at least until these two sides meet again in the Six Nations at the start of March, and there can be no real complaints from the great man’s homeland about that. Wales were physically stronger and mentally sharper.
Scotland coughed up points too easily. Three kickable penalties in the first 22 minutes to a team containing Leigh Halfpenny meant that they were always chasing the scoreboard, and both Welsh tries could have been prevented with a bit more bite in the tackle. However, you can’t look at those lapses in isolation: the intensity of the home team’s direct attacking game and their ferocity at the breakdown meant the Scots were under constant pressure, and mistakes were a natural consequence.
There was a Six Nations-type buzz around Cardiff for several hours before kick-off, and although the stadium was not quite packed to the rafters, it was certainly full enough to feel like a proper Test match occasion. On the park, both teams played with real intent – but there was a missing edge when compared to those monumental occasions we are accustomed to seeing between these two historic rugby nations at the start of every calendar year.
Wales are notoriously slow starters in the Autumn, having not won their opening match in the series since 2002, but they looked pretty sharp here. The hosts took a third minute lead through a Halfpenny penalty after Hamish Watson was penalised for not releasing on the deck, and they never looked like relinquishing that lead through the remainder of the match, although the Scots deserve credit for managing to keep hold of their opponents’ coat-tails to prevent the margin stretching beyond 11-points.
Alex Dunbar shoved his way past Hadleigh Parks to make good yardage up the middle of the park early on, but generally the Scots carriers struggled to make any headway against Wales’ claustrophobic line-speed. In contrast, when the home team got hold of the ball, they blasted great chunks out of Scotland’s defensive line, and it looked like they had scored the game’s first try when George North latched onto Gareth Anscombe’s cross-field kick – but it was chalked off because Lee Jones did excellently to get across and force a foot into touch. The game was brought back for an earlier offside penalty and Halfpenny doubled his account.
Six points became nine when Ross Moriarty broke, Dunbar did well to scrag him, but Jonny Gray dived round the side of a ruck – from a blatantly offside position – in a hopelessly futile attempt to snaffle the ball. Halfpenny was once again on the money from the kicking tee.
Wales made a pretty sloppy job of dealing with the restart and ended up conceding a scum on their own 22, which went down and became a Scotland penalty, allowing Adam Hastings to help himself to three points, which reduced the gap to six points with 25-minutes played.
Having been denied earlier, North was not going to be stopped when he Wales obliterated Scotland’s scrum to create great front-foot ball, with the giant winger brushing off tackles from both Huw Jones and Alex Dunbar, then carrying Blair Kinghorn over the line with him – although, in fairness, the Scottish full-back was not to blame.
Scotland, to their credit, bounced right back, with Stuart McInally getting the ball down after a splinter-group from a driven line-out caught Wales napping. Hastings nailed the conversion to make it a four-point game at half-time.
Premiership match reports:
The second half started pretty positively for the visitors, who monopolised territory and possession for the best part of ten minutes, but they then found themselves back to 11 points behind when Welsh stand-off Gareth Anscombe attacked the line from off-the-top line-out ball, then fed Jonathan Davies, who brushed past another flaky tackle from Huw Jones on his way over.
Scotland kept plugging away. Jonny Gray was stopped just short and the TMO correctly ruled that he made a double-movement to get the ball over the line. The arrival of George Horne as replacement scrum-half added some real zip, and when his clever chip into the dead-ball area was chased down by brother Peter, the TMO was once again called upon – and the try was once again disallowed, this time on the basis that elder sibling had knocked on as he dived to collect.
Wales weathered that mini storm without really being stretched, despite having replacement hooker Elliot Dee in the sin-bin for killing the ball, and saw out the remainder of the game for a comfortable victory.
Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, H Parkes, L Morgan (S Evans 78); G Anscombe (J Evans 78), G Davies (T Williams 69); N Smith (R Evans 62), K Owens (E Dee 40-42), D Lewis (L Brown 79), C Hill (B Davies 64), A Wyn Jones, D Lydiate (K Owens 70, A Wainwright 78), J Tipuric, R Moriarty.
Scotland: B Kinghorn; T Seymour (D Graham 73), H Jones (P Horne 62), A Dunbar, L Jones; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 62); A Dell (A Allan 56), S McInally (F Brown 56), W Nel (S Berghan 56), B Toolis, J Gray (G Gilchrist 70), J Ritchie (M Fagerson 62), H Watson, R Wilson.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Wales: Tries: North, Davies; Con: Halfpenny; Pen: Halfpenny 3.
Scotland: Try: McInally; Con: Hastings; Pen: Hastings.
Scoring sequence (Wales first): 3-0; 6-0; 9-0; 9-3; 14-3; 14-8; 14-10 (h-t) 19-10; 21-10;
Yellow cards –