COLIN RENTON @ BT Murrayfield
VERN COTTER is not known for gratuitous displays of emotion, so given his post-match chat, it’s reasonable to assume he was pretty chuffed with the day’s proceedings.
The Scotland coach was reflecting on a 29-13 RBS Six Nations win against Wales at BT Murrayfield built on an outstanding second half performance that saw the hosts chalk up 20 unanswered points to overturn a 13-9 half time deficit.
“I was really happy for a number of reasons”, said Cotter. “We set out to win the game and at half time we weren’t particularly well-positioned to do so. The players adjusted well second half and I thought scored a couple of nice tries and, I thought, transferred pressure back onto the Welsh team. It was a good second half performance, so I’m happy.”
Finn Russell bookended the first half scoring with two penalties, and he was also on target after 29 minutes as the Scots managed to withstand a solid Welsh effort that yield two penalties for Leigh Halfpenny, who also converted a try by Liam Williams. A key moment came three minutes before the break when Halfpenny missed with a penalty that most Welshmen in the ground would have marked down as a ‘gimme’ although it was from a fair distance.
However, Scotland were transformed after the restart, moving the ball wider and, with Russell at his mercurial best, constantly asking questions of the Welsh defence. There were also outstanding contributions from Hamish Watson, who had replaced John Hardie in 25 minutes, Ali Price and Gordon Reid. And, while Stuart Hogg may not have his scored, he was a key component in the second half effort, most notably with a moment of genius that created the second try.
Meanwhile, the Grays exhibited the fraternal telepathy that has seen them forge a second row partnership that is now a cornerstone of the side. Little wonder that there are murmerings from France that Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad is keen to see the younger brother join Cotter at the Top 14 outfit in the future.
Skipper John Barclay also earned plaudits for his leadership. He modestly deflected praise to his colleagues, but could take massive satisfaction from the outcome, particularly when he returns to his club, given that six of his Scarlets team mates started for Wales, with another two on the bench.
The wider game paid off when Tim Visser sent Tommy Seymour in for a try before taking a sublime pass from Hogg to dart over for a second Scotland touchdown. Russell converted both – the first via the post – and had a penalty sandwiched between the two scores. And he banged over a three pointer from wide on the right with eight minutes to play, extending the lead beyond two converted scores and providing a cushion that the on-song Scots never looked likely to surrender.
“It was just some of the little things we needed to tidy up, bring intensity and tweak a couple of things”, said Cotter, of the half time chat. “We were probably watching them play rather than play ourselves and we discovered that we could probably influence the outcome if we did a few things. I am very proud of that response.
“It’s a while since we have beaten Wales so hats off to the players, I thought they put in a great performance.”
In the Welsh camp, dejected coach Rob Howley was left bemoaning a sub-par effort by his men after the restart. “We made it easier for Scotland second half – we turned the ball over too many times. We weren’t clinical when we needed to be”, he said. “Scotland were very clinical in their attack and they scored two soft tries.
“In the areas that mattered. Scotland just edged it in the second half”, he added. “They were very effective at the contact area although I think we made it slightly easier for them.”
An interested spectator was British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland. All of the matches in the tournament have been billed as trials so, if that was the case here, Gatland’s perceived bias towards Welsh players must surely have been shaken.
Next up for Cotter’s men is a trip to face England at Twickenham. The coach believes there is more to come from this squad, but even in his happy state, there was no way he could be nudged into making any form of prediction for that match.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar, T Visser; F Russell, A Price (H Pyrgos 55); G Reid (A Dell 51), F Brown (R Ford 70),. Z Fagerson, R Gray, J Gray, J Barclay (c). J Hardie (H Watson 24), R Wilson.
Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, S Williams (J Roberts 62), L Williams; D Biggar (S Davies 67), R Webb; R Evans (N Smith 67), K Owens S Baldwin 67), T Francis (S Lee 51), J Ball (L Charteris 56), A W Jones (c), S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty (T Faletau 62).
Tries, Seymour, Visser; Conversions, Russell (2); Penalties, Russell (5)
Try, L Williams; Conversion, Halfpenny; Penalties Halfpenny (2)
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-3 3-8, 3-10, 6—10, 6-13, 9-13 (h-t) 14-13, 16-13, 19-13, 24-13, 26-13, 29-13.
Man-of-the-Match – So many contenders, but Ali Price shrugged off the pressure of making his first start, and replacing the injured captain, to deliver an assured performance.
Talking point – Scotland last won at Twickenham in 1983. Could they build on their two impressive home victories and deliver a result that many consider impossible?