DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
A DAY when two significant records tumbled. It is the first time Scotland have managed to win their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign, and this is their biggest ever winning margin against Wales (beating the 35-10 scoreline which was achieved at Inverleith back in 1924).
This result leaves Gregor Townsend‘s side second in the Six Nations table behind Ireland on points differential (+37 versus +34), which will give the team confidence ahead of their next outing away to France in a fortnight’s time.
Stand-off Finn Russell was named man-of-the-match for his mesmerising second-half performance, when he seemed to have the ball attached to a string as he tormented Wales with a stunning array of cross-field kicks and cheeky offloads. He was surrounded by willing and capable accomplices, and that likeminded firepower across the dark blue backline will be a handful for any team they face in this championship, if they can continue to toe the line between free-wheeling attack at the right moments and playing the percentages when required.
Scotland were clinical when they got within striking distance, while Wales squandered a number of gilt-edged opportunities. Discipline was also an issue for the visitors with 17 penalties conceded across the 80 minutes.
The game burst into life in the sixth minute when a powerful line-out drive clicked Scotland into gear and Sione Tuipulotu‘s offload released Huw Jones in midfield. Duhan van der Merwe didn’t manage to stay connected so the scoring pass wasn’t on, but a quick recycle allowed Russell to send an inch-perfect cross-kick to the right, which Kyle Steyn volleyball tapped back in field to Jamie Ritchie. The attack petered out against some heroic Welsh scramble defence, but an offside penalty allowed Russell to open the scoring with a straight forward kick from in front of the posts.
Scotland kept their foot on the gas with Pierre Schoeman ripping the ball from Welsh arms like taking sweets from a baby, allowing Ben White to attack on the left, and the hosts extended their lead with a second Russell penalty awarded against Daffyd Jenkins for not rolling away from a tackle.
Wales had several opportunities to narrow the gap. When Russell got caught in possession tidying up a loose-ball, they kicked the penalty to the corner but lost the line-out. When van der Merwe carried the ball back over his own line to hand the visitors a scrum-five, Joe Hawkins inexplicably strayed offside as a decoy runner. And when they won a scrum penalty 40 yards out and slap-bang in the middle of the park, Dan Biggar pulled his shot to the right of the posts.
An excellent turnover by skipper Ritchie on his own line finally punctured that head of steam Wales had been building, and it took a desperate double-tackle from Rio Dyer and Josh Adams to squeeze Steyn out just short of the line on the right. Play was brought back for an earlier penalty, which was kicked to the corner for a line-out maul, from which George Turner powered over for the game’s opening try.
Hero turned to villain just a few seconds later when Turner saw yellow for shoulder-to-head contact on George North, and Wales made the most of the extra man, heading to the corner and rumbling over the line, with Ken Owens providing the final touch. Biggar converted.
Wales passed up another golden opportunity on the stroke of half-time when Dyer failed to gather Biggar’s through-the-legs pass with the line at his mercy.
After a few wobbles early in the second half, Scotland managed to close down the game to avoid any further loss of points before returning to full-strength, and not long after Turner’s reappearance, a fine Russell grubber gave the home team an excellent attacking platform but Zander Fagerson lost possession diving for the line.
Then quick hands gave van der Merwe his first chance to stretch his legs in attack, making 30-yards up the left touchline, before the dam finally burst when Russell slipped through two tacklers and flicked a back-handed pass to send Steyn over.
And the Glasgow Warriors winger got his second a few minutes later straight after Liam Williams was sent to the sin-bin for going off his feet at a ruck near his own line, with Russell’s cross-field kick serving up the try on a plate.
There was a period of soaking up Welsh pressure as the men in red desperately tried to find a way back into the game, but once that had been taken care of, Scotland claimed the bonus-point from a slick line-out move, leading Russell directing another cross-field kick with razor-sharp accuracy to van der Merwe, who made ground before feeding back inside for Blair Kinghorn to score.
The home team were in complete control and the fifth try eventually arrived when a classic delayed pass from Russell sent Matt Fagerson home.
Scotland: S Hogg (B Kinghorn 13); K Steyn, H Jones, S Tuipulotu (C Harris 72), D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White (G Horne 59); P Schoeman (J Bhatti, 64), G Turner (F Brown 59), Z Fagerson (W Nel 64), R Gray, G Gilchrist (J Gray 64), J Ritchie, L Crosbie (F Brown 36-42, Dempsey 44), M Fagerson.
Wales: L Williams; J Adams (A Cuthbert 59), G North (A Cuthbert 33-40), J Hawkins, R Dyer; D Biggar (R Patchell 57), T Williams (R Webb 57); W Jones (R Carre 52), K Owens (S Baldwin 64), D Lewis (L Brown 64), D Jenkins (R Davies 66), A Beard, C Tshiunza, T Reffell, J Morgan (T Faletau, 52).
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Scotland: Try: Turner, Steyn 2, Kinghorn, Fagerson; Con: Russell 2; Pen: Russell 2
Wales: Tries: Cons: Biggar.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 3-0; 6-0; 11-0; 13-0; 13-5; 13-7 (h-t) 18-7; 20-7; 25-7; 30-7; 35-7.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Turner (32mins)
Wales: Williams (57mins), Webb (82mins)