FERGUS MAINLAND @ DAM Health Stadium
FIGHT and resilience could only carry Scotland so far as they fell to Wales in the second round of the Six Nations. Bryan Easson’s side were unable to capitalise on a Welsh yellow card as they came up short yet again.
On his side’s performance, Easson said: “We’re really happy in terms of the group that are coming through. I certainly don’t look at 11 [losses] and go: ‘No, we’ve forgotten how to win. Absolutely not’. I thought there were a hell of a lot of positives last week and there were certainly a hell of a lot more this week as well.
“In the second half we were better defensively. But fair play to the Welsh, they just kept going. It was a tough one. Our tackle count was phenomenal.
“I thought some of the performances were outstanding. It’s a new side, there’s a lot of youngsters in there, and we’re gaining experience every time. Up until the last play of the game there was a score in it. It could have gone either way. A lot to be proud of there.”
Straight from kick-off, Scotland were forced to go to their bench after Rachel McLachlan was on the receiving end of a clattering from Bethan Lewis on the first carry of the game. Eilidh Sinclair was called into early action as McLachlan was off for an HIA.
Wales attacked the restart with the same velocity that saw them punish Ireland last week. Moments, later, on her 50th cap, Keira Bevan darted through Scotland’s defence, deep into their 22.
A penalty ensued and with Wales kicking for touch, their early ambitions were rewarded. The mismatch of Sisilia Tuipulotu, last week’s player of the match, against Coreen Grant was unfavourable to say the least for the Scottish winger and Tuipulotu scored her second try of the tournament in the corner. Bevan missed the extra points.
The next q0 minutes were a microcosm of the match that unfolded last weekend. Flashes of a Scottish attack such as Caity Mattinson’s 50/22 were ultimately undone by basic errors across the pitch.
McLachlan passed her HIA and immediately returned to the scrum but after another Scottish penalty in the pack, the home side found themselves anxiously defending their try line.
Scotland were only saved by the TMO ruling Sioned Harries offside as Wales’ second score was chalked off.
As the clock ticked past 20 minutes, the pendulum of momentum started to swing in the favour of the Scots. After Wales were penalised at the lineout, Scotland made a rare trip into the Welsh 22.
Scotland strung together some phases through the forwards, but a knock-on snuffed out the attack and the hosts settled for three from the boot of vice-captain Helen Nelson.
Anything Scotland could do; Wales could seemingly do better. The visitors ruthlessly recovered the ball from the restart and having been denied earlier, Harries broke through Scotland’s lines fuelled by fiery redemption. The No 8 artfully pirouetted past Coreen Grant and her offload to Bevan brought Wales to within inches of the Scottish line. From here, it was only going to be a matter of time before when one of the Welsh forwards would rumble over and Gwenllian Pyrs would have the honour of the second Welsh score.
With less than 10 minutes until the break, Wales were penalised once more. Hannah Jones’s side were put on a final warning and Scotland put their faith in their line-out. Scotland hit the maul and pushed Wales back beyond the white line for Lana Skeldon to score her 10th try in blue. Nelson added the extras and the deficit was two points.
With the clock encroaching on 40 minutes, Welsh discipline at the breakdown was finally punished with a yellow card shown to Kerin Lake.
A line break from Francesca McGhie and carries from Skeldon and Christine Belisle gave the crowd hope of a halftime lead but a Scottish knock-on meant the hosts were behind after 40.
Scotland started the second half with the player advantage but the combination of a quick Welsh turnover and soft Scottish defence allowed Wales to walk back to the Scottish five-metre line.
Within two minutes of kick-off, Wales resumed the scoring as Pyrs rumbled over for the second of the evening. Bevan slotted the extras.
Under pressure to haul themselves back into contention and up against the clock to maximise the yellow card, Scotland’s match suddenly hinged on an attacking scrum.
The forwards held strong, and quick hands from Meryl Smith to Nelson set up a line from Grant off her wing to pierce through the Welsh defence. Nelson converted.
Wales’ ability to punch back after conceding conjured up images of Rocky Balboa and within six minutes, they were back inside Scotland’s 22 and hunting for another score. It came from Pyrs – her second of the afternoon and a fourth for the visiting props. While a bonus point was secured, Bevan missed the conversion.
After failing to capitalise on back-to-back penalties, Scotland’s third line-out finally set-up a consistent period of play, etching their way into Welsh territory.
With Scotland looking for an attacking catalyst, Smith worked the ball into the hands of Chloe Rollie. The afterburners were ignited and she steamed down the outside of the Welsh defence to score her second try in two weeks. After Nelson missed the conversion from out wide, Wales led by two
Wales kept the scoreboard ticking over through the boot of Elinor Snowsill. The fly-half settled for three points after her side went though over 15 phases of play in the Scottish half.
The Welsh pack proceeded to obliterate Scotland and Ffion Lewis darted off the back of the scrum to score and seal the Welsh victory, consigning Scotland to an 11th defeat on the trot.
Malcolm stressed that her side were in position to win the game at several points throughout the 80 minutes. Scotland’s captain said: “We were not happy with how we defended in the first half. In the second half we stopped them but they are just so good at keeping ball and it paid dividends for them.
“We need to look at how we can stop them rather than just push them back rather than just stop them but that was a proper test match and I can’t ask for any more fight from my girls.
“There were some key battles and the set piece did not go our way. If we had sorted out maul out sooner, we would have been comfortably ahead of them and that is something we will look at going forward and I think we have to work out how to get the ball back off them defensively.
“We had the aim all week of being relentless, and I think we achieved that. But unfortunately for us Wales were equally relentless.
“When they had the ball, they did a really good job of keeping hold of it, and eventually we succumbed to that pressure. It’s small margins; there are little things that we can fix.”
Scotland: C Rollie, C Grant (L Musgrove 67), E Orr, M Smith (B Blacklock 74), F McGhie, H Nelson, C Mattinson (M McDonald); L Bartlett (A Young 69), L Skeldon (J Rettie 79), C Belisle (E Clarke 56), L O’Donnell (E Donaldson), L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), R McLachlan (E Sinclair 30), E Gallagher.
Wales: C Keight, L Neumann (H Bluck 79), H Jones (captain), K Lake, C Williams-Morris, E Snowsill (R Wilkins 79), K Bevan (Ffion Lewis 61); G Pyrs (C Hope 79), K Jones (C Phillips 79), S Tuipulotu (C Hale 79), A Fleming (N John 67), G Evans, B Lewis, A Callender, S Harries (K Williams 64).
Referee: Maggie Cogger-Orr (New Zealand)
Scotland: Tries: Skeldon, Grant, Rollie; Cons: Nelson 2; Pen: Nelson.
Wales: Tries: Tuipulotu 2, Pyrs 2, Lewis; Cons: Bevan 2, Snowsill. Pen: Snowsill.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 3-5; 3-12; 10-12; 10-19; 17-19; 17-24; 22-24; 22-27;
Yellow card –
Wales: Lake (39 mins)