PROGRESS of a sort for Scotland but, really, failing to pick up even a losing bonus point against the second weakest team in this Six Nations tournament, who played most of the second half with 14-men after the 48th minute red-carding of replacement flanker Harri Deaves, is simply not good enough.
There will be some sort of review after this championship whitewash. It will be internal. And any published findings will be vague and point in any direction away from Murrayfield. That’s the way it works. But one thing we can say for certain right here and now is that until we find a serious way of increasing the critical mass of youngsters playing the game at a decent standard then we are destined to continue being the poor relations of this competition, and far more vulnerable than our Six Nations rivals to vagaries such as injury and Covid lockdowns.
Tackling this problem won’t be easy, but it needs to be the absolute priority because, fundamentally, running a successful national sport is a numbers game, and aggressive overseas recruitment to mask the lack of volume coming through our own pipeline is an exercise akin to putting lipstick on a pig.
The players deserve praise for their resilience in adversity throughout the campaign, for continuing to front up despite being hopelessly out-gunned on several occasions in this championship, and we hope that the experience boosts their future development – but wouldn’t it have been great for them to have been given a fighting chance of being truly competitive. There is nothing wrong with the raw materials in Scotland – they deserve better.
“The boys were working hard, created some opportunities, so we can’t fault the effort,” said had coach Sean Lineen afterwards. “We’ve seen improvements in behaviours off the field, improvements in how they train, how they warm-up – we’ve seen really good improvements there – but the next stage is obviously in the game. It is called a Test match for a reason.
“I thought Finlay Callaghan, again, did okay. I though Alex Clayton at 15 ran the ball back well. We scored three tries which is positive. Ollie Leatherbarrow did okay, and collectively the effort was really encouraging. But I just hope they continue to grow as individual rugby players and understand what it takes to win games.
“We’ve definitely improved. If the tournament was starting now, we would be in a better place to compete, but it’s not, and the guys who are lucky enough to be back next season will have learned an awful lot. We as coaches have learned an awful lot as well.
“There is a lot of hard work to do,” he added. “The lack of rugby, the lack of an under-18s programme for a lot of these lads, the lack of prep time, the accessibility to certain players, and we’ve gone about the injuries to some of our players long enough, all of that does affect us.
“I’m just happy they came together as a team tonight and the boys are gutted in the changing room. You can see that they were trying but just too many things went wrong.”
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Scotland started in lively fashion, punching up the middle of the park with some aggressive running off scrum-half Murray Redpath, to get in range for Cammy Scott to fire home an offside penalty with barely three-minutes played, but Wales bounced right back and took the lead when the imposing Chris Tshiunza bowled his way over from close range to set up a conversion which Scarlets stand-off Sam Costelow had no problem converting.
This pattern continued for the next 20 minutes. The Scots recaptured the lead when hooker Patrick Harrison burst from the back of a maul and over for his third try of the championship, the pendulum swung back the other way when Welsh inside-centre Joe Hawkins treated Scott like a road bump on his way to the line, then Scotland inside-centre Michael Gray showed plenty strength of his own when riding four tackles to reach the whitewash, before Welsh loose-head Cameron Jones got in on the act to make it 17-19 to Wales with only 24 minutes played.
At this stage, it seemed like a basketball score was on the cards. Full marks for attacking intent, but both teams seemed to ave taken the view that defence is an optional extra, and the inability of the two sides to control possession from the restart must have had the coaches tearing their hair out in frustration.
The scoring did, however, dry up for the remainder of the half, and then there was a scare at the start of the second half when Welsh winger Carrick McDonough landed awkwardly after going up for a high ball and had to be stretchered from the field. It looked serious so it was a relief to see him back on his feet and looking in pretty decent shape towards the end of the game.
Wales were then reduced to 14 men after eight minutes of the second half when Deeves tried to jackal Michael Jones on the deck but got it all wrong and ended up with a finger making contact with the prop’s eye-area.
Scotland initially took advantage with a converted Ben Muncaster try, but Wales weren’t done yet and were soon back in front when a hard-hitting passage of rugby culminated in a penalty try and a high-tackle yellow-card against Ollie Melville.
Costelow then banged home a 45-yard offside penalty to stretch the Welsh lead to five points, and with Scotland’s set-piece beginning to struggle it looked like the writing was on the wall for Sean Lineen’s side.
To their credit, they did weather that storm and once back to full strength they came close to going ahead again when Euan Ferrie was held up over the line following a powerful midfield surge from Muncaster.
They had a few more opportunities to snatch the win, but lapses in composure at key moments cost them, and another long-range penalty from Costelow killed the game off.
Scotland: A Clayton; F Callaghan, S King, M Gray (T Glendinning 75), O Meville; C Scott (C Townsend 64), M Redpath (E Cunningham 48); M Jones (C Lamberton 41-42, 60), P Harrison (J Drummond 48), C Bowker (G Breese 35), E Ferrie, A Samuel (M Williamson 48), O Leatherbarrow, H Morris (r Tait 53), B Muncaster.
Wales: M Richards, C McDonough (J Beetham 41), I Evans (B Burnell 77), J Hawkins, T Florence; S Costelow, E Lloyd; C Jones (Z Giannini 50), E Daniel, N Evans (L Jones, 17), D Jenkins, R Thomas (J Fender 71), C Tshiunza, A Mann (H Deaves 45), T Davies (E Lloyd 50).
Referee: Adam Leal
Scotland: Tries: Harrison, Gray, Muncaster; Con: Scott 3; Pen: Scott.
Wales: Tries: Tshiunza, Hawkins, Jones, Penaty Try; Cons: Costelow 2; Pens: Costelow 2
Scoring sequence: 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 8-7; 10-7; 10-12; 10-14; 14-14; 17-1; 17-19 (h-t) 22-19; 24-19; 24-26; 24-29; 24-32.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Melville (53mins)
Red cards –
Wales: Deeves (48mins)