STUART BATHGATE @ Scotstoun
TWO wins in South Africa had got Philip Doyle’s reign as Scotland coach off to a very encouraging start earlier this season, but some of the old problems emerged in this, their first home game of the campaign. Recent matches against Wales have been close affairs, but in this case the visitors were the better side by some margin, especially up front.
The fact the Welsh had played twice over the past fortnight, losing to Spain then beating Ireland, was reflected in their slick passing as well as in their dynamic forward play. Three tries in the first half – one of them a penalty award – were a fair depiction of the visitors’ dominance, and although the second half was scoreless and a far more even contest, Scotland have still been left with a lot of thinking to do before next Sunday’s match against Japan.
“South Africa was a real plus point for us, but today was – maybe not a step back, but it wasn’t a step forward, which was disappointing,” assistant coach Bryan Easson said. “The set piece really let us down in the first half, and it’s always difficult to play without clean ball. We chased the game a bit too much.”
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One positive aspect of the game for Easson was a much-improved second-half display, in which Scotland showed the nous to work out how to deal with the Welsh threat up front, and the strength of character not to let their heads go down despite facing a 14-point deficit. “At 17-3 at half-time, I think in the past we’ve all seen us implode,” he added. “Whereas here we came out and performed a lot better. Tactically we changed a lot and brought more speed into the game. We grew into the game.”
Scotland struggled to get out of their own half for the bulk of a first 40 as the Welsh pack took control of proceedings. The home team’s lineout misfired, they failed to find touch with a couple of penalties, and above all they could not find a way to halt the opposing forwards. The pressure had to tell eventually, and it did after 13 minutes when Wales kicked a penalty to touch and the resultant lineout maul was all too easily driven over the line, with openside Bethan Lewis being credited with the score.
The Welsh attack had finesse as well as brute force, as they showed with their second try midway through the half. The score was again initiated by a lineout, with this time the ball going down the line from right to left before full-back Lauren Smyth put in an exquisitely weighted chip for winger Lisa Neumann to run on to.
Scotland began to attack with a bit more purpose after that, and when a half-break initiated by Rhona Lloyd was halted illegally, Helen Nelson opened their account with a penalty from just inside the Welsh 10-metre line. The rest of the half belonged to Wales, however, and three minutes into stoppage time they stretched their lead with a penalty try awarded for persistent infringing by the Scots defence. Emma Wassell had been yellow-carded in the lead-up to that score, so Scotland began the second half a woman and 14 points down.
The loss of loosehead prop Megan Kennedy to injury soon after the restart brought further disruption to the home team’s efforts to mount a fightback, but the introduction of Jenny Maxwell at scrum-half injected new energy to their attack, and they began to enjoy some sustained pressure as Wales showed signs of running out of steam. Just after the hour mark Louise McMillan intercepted and broke clear from midfield to touch down, but the referee had been playing advantage and the score was chalked off.
Stand-off Sarah Denholm had come on for her debut just before then, and she was soon joined on the field by the other uncapped member of the 23, winger Evie Tonkin. Those two played their part in a competitive final quarter, but Wales were nonetheless able to maintain their half-time advantage in relative comfort.
Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, L Thomson, H Nelson, M Gaffney; L Martin, M Grieve; M Kennedy, J Rettie, M Forsyth, E Wassell, S Bonar, R Malcolm (captain), L McMillan, J Konkel. Subs: P Muzambe, Lisa Cockburn, C Belisle, R McLachlan, E Tonkin, J Maxwell, S Denholm, A Evans.
Wales: L Smyth; R O’Loughlin, M Webb, K Lake, L Neumann; E Snowsill, N Terry; G Pyrs, K Jones, C Hale, N John, G Crabb, R Lock, B Lewis, S Lillicrap (captain). Subs: M Kelly, G Jenkins, S Lawrence, A Fleming, A Callender, F Lewis, K Powell, P Randall.
Referee: N O’Donnell (Army).
Scorers: Scotland: Pen: Nelson.
Wales: Tries: Lewis, Neumann, penalty try.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5, 0-10, 3-10, 3-17 half-time.
Yellow card: Scotland: Wassell 40.