AN uplifting end to a generally frustrating Six Nations campaign for Scotland, who consigned Wales to the Wooden Spoon with this deserved victory built on a dominant forward display and some smart game management from captain and player-of-the-match Helen Nelson.
A bit of context is necessary. This Wales side lost its two pool matches against France and Ireland by 98 points in total without troubling the scorer, so this 5th/6th place play-off victory shouldn’t be hailed as some sort of historic breakthrough. Having said that, you can only beat what is in front of you, and Scotland did that with something to spare, winning the try-count by four tries to two.
Scotland can now look ahead to their World Cup qualifying campaign – expected to be in the Autumn (format still to be announced) – with some optimism, although head coach Bryan Easson acknowledged that there is still a lot of work to do.
“The work the girls have put in over the past few months, they really deserved what they got today,” said head coach Bryan Easson..” The resilience they’ve shown, their adaptability to everything, the way they really fronted up post-last week’s game.
“Scoring four tries at Scotstoun, winning at Scotstoun for the first time (in nine attempts), and it being only the second time in 17 years we’ve beaten Wales – we have to look at that as a really positive result.
“Obviously we’ll review and look at it. There is also a lot of things that we can work on. We’ve got a good group here, a good growing group, and we’ve now won a game and we’ll kick on.”
Bucking the trend of recent outings, the hosts got off to an excellent start when some powerful forward play created the platform for slick hands from Jenny Maxwell, Helen Nelson and Hannah Smith to send Megan Gaffney in on the left with just five minutes on the clock.
Wales responded well and pressurised Scotland into conceding three kickable penalties. Robyn Wilkins missed the first but nailed her second and third shots at goal to edge the visitors into a narrow lead.
Unruffled, Scotland bounced right back, with tight-head prop Megan Kennedy rumbling over following some excellent build-up play, and not to be outdone by her front-row partner, loose-head Chistine Belisle then got in on the act with a try of her own from close range, to make it 17-6 at the break.
Wales fired out the blocks after the break and pulled themselves right back into it when Megan Davies sniffed out and exploited a gap on the short side of a ruck, then sent Lisa Neumann over in the corner, with Robyn Wilkins nailing the touchline conversion.
But Scotland quickly re-established themselves when Siobhan Cattigan broke up the middle of the park and, after several minutes of pressure, Evie Gallagher rumbled home at the back of a line-out drive.
You sensed that one more try would kill Wales off and it looked like Liz Musgrove was going to oblige when she latched onto Helen Nelson‘s well-judged chip ahead, but a brilliant last-gasp tackle from Welsh full-back Jasmine Joyce kept the flying winger out.
Scotland had to make do with an offside penalty from Nelson instead, and in the end that proved to be enough, although Wales did finish with a flourishing when Caitlin Lewis grabbed an injury-time consolation try, and Wilkins added the touchline conversion as the final act of the match.
Scotland needed to win by 15 points to break back into the top ten in the world rankings, but Easson said that he is not in the slightest concerned about missing out on that.
“It’s not a massive driver for us at the moment,” he explained. “The biggest driver was to get that victory after a tough a Six Nations.
“We’ve been going since August, and within that block we’ve drawn with France, beaten Wales and scored 20 points in a Six Nations game [against Italy last week] for the first time in, I think, 16 years.
“We’ll have two weeks off then we’ll come back and start putting together some work for the World Cup qualifiers. Tenth in the world would be nice, but it’s about the progress we’re putting together.”
Easson added that he is as in the dark as the rest of us about what those qualifiers will entail. “We know there will be four teams – us, Ireland, Italy and Spain – but I don’t know what the format is. We know it will be post-summer because there needs to be downtime.”
Scotland: C Rollie; E Musgrove, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson, J Maxwell; C Belisle ( L Cockburn 70), L Skeldon, M Kennedy (L Bartlett 60), E Wassell, L McMillan, E Gallagher, R McLachlan, S Cattigan (J Rettie 21-35).
Wales: J Joyce; L Neumann, G Rowland (M Webb 79), H Jones, C Lewis; R Wilkins, M Davies (J Knight 79); C Thomas (G Jenkins, 72), R Lock, D Rose (C Hill 64), N John (A Fleming 70), T Wyn Davies (G Crabb 60), M Johnes, B Dainton (S Powell-Hughes 60), G Evans.
Scotland: Tries: Gaffney, Kennedy, Belisle, Gallagher; Con: Nelson 2; Pen: Nelson.
Wales: Tries: Neumann; Cons; Williams; Pens: Williams 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 5-3; 5-6; 10-6; 12-6; 17-6 (h-t) 17-11; 17-13; 22-13; 24-13; 27-13.