DAVID BARNES @ Meggetland
THEY had hinted at being capable of a performance and result like this during their previous three outings in this Six Nations campaign, and Scotland Under-20s finally delivered a win in some style against a Welsh team who arrived north as firm favourites after winning two of their three games so far, including a 11-10 vanquishing of England a fortnight ago.
If Wales had won this game they would have hosted Ireland next week in a winner-takes-all title decider, but they didn’t ever really have Scotland under pressure here, until two late tries salvaged them a losing bonus-point.
Scotland have played well in fits and starts in recent outings but on this occasion they put together something pretty close to an 80-minute performance which featured four well taken tries and some really resolute defence.
“I’m delighted for the players that they’ve got a tangible reward for the hard work they have put in over the last five or six weeks,” said head coach Carl Hogg. “We’ve seen snapshots and glimpses of what they might be able to achieve, but they haven’t produced it over an 80-minute timeline until today. I thought for 75-minutes out there we were excellent. We always looked the dominant side, we looked in control and we did the simple things well.”
“Clearly this result will give us confidence. They trained well all week, sometimes in the pst they have trained inconsistently, but we’ve a had a really good week from Sunday right through to today, and they’ve reaped the rewards. The key thing now is to go and replicate that next week in a massive challenge against England at Franklin’s Gardens.
“These young men have now got experience of training and playing at this level of speed and intensity. It has been a very steep learning curve, and they have made huge improvements over a very short period of time, and the challenge now is to not only take that into the England game but also maintain that as we build towards the World Cup.”
Scotland took a seventh minute lead when Ross Thompson’s excellent diagonal into the corner presented Wales with a pressure line-out which they fumbled, and after Kwagga van Nierkerk had burst from the base of the resulting scrum, Connor Boyle mounted a secondary charge over the line. The home team extended their lead eight-minutes later from another close-range scrum, but on this occasion scrum-half Roan Frostwick broke from the base then sent inside-centre Robbie McCallum in for the score, which Thompson converted.
Van Niekerk was slightly unlucky to see yellow for a powerful tackle in which he drove a Welshman backwards several yards but dumped the player rather clumsily at the end, and Wales got themselves off the mark with a penalty from Cai Evans – son of Ieuan – just before the South Africa-born No 8 returned to the fray.
A second offside penalty reduced the gap to six points with six minutes of the half remaining, but Scotland made sure they went in at the break on the front foot when Thompson made the most of a penalty advantage by angling a cross-field kick to the right wing, and Rory McMichael rose to collect the ball before flopping over the line. Thompson nailed the touch-line conversion for good measure.
The heavens opened at half-time, but Scotland battled on unperturbed and moved further ahead with a Thompson penalty in the 47th minute. Then the moment of the match arrived when McCallum tidied loose ball in midfield, Scotland recycled, Thompson grubbered towards the left touchline, Jack Blain got a boot to it just before a diving Welshman and the ball fired back infield towards Cameron Henderson, who did exceptionally well to gather at knee level whilst on the hoof before feeding back to Blain for a 25-yard canter home.
Wales rallied and split Scotland open when Sam Costelow chipped over the top and gathered himself, with Elias Thomas running a powerful support line, but there was a knock-on as the ball was transferred to replacement Ioan Rhys Davies.
Costelow was back on the rampage a few minutes later, but another knock-on let Scotland off the book again. Then a good positional kick from Thompson took Scotland back deep into Welsh territory and Euan McLaren powered to just a few inches short of the line, but when he was downed he allowed white-line-fever to get the better of him and was penalised for playing the ball on the deck.
Wales weren’t helped by having to play the final quarter without a specialist scrum-half, after replacement No 9 Harri Morgan went off injured, and that was perhaps a contributing factor to their lack of guile during long periods of possession when they were continually pushed backwards by Scotland’s determined and well marshalled defence.
The visitors, however, did get a couple of late consolation scores through replacement hooker Will Griffiths after a driven line-out and the excellent Castelow after a searing break, with Evans converting both to ensure that the away team at least got a losing bonus-point out of their trip north.
Scotland: M Davidson; R McMichael, C Anderson, R McCallum, J Blain; R Thompson, R Frostwick; M Walker (A Nimmo 75), E Ashman (A Fraser 75), E McLaren (W Hurd 75), E Johnson, C Henderson, C Jupp, C Boyle, K van Niekerk (J Mann 62).
Wales: I Davies; A Morgan (S Costelow 55), M Llewellyn, A Owen (T Thomas-Wheeler 40), D Cross; C Evans, D Buckland (H Morgan 40, I Rees Davies 61); K Mathias (T Devine 55), D Lake (W Griffiths 72), B Warren, T Williams, J Price, E Thomas, J Morgan, I Rees.
Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland)
Scotland: Tries: Boyle, McCallum, McMichael, Blain; Con: Thompson 2; Pen: Thompson.
Wales: Try: Griffiths, Catselow; Con: Evans 2; Pen: Evans 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 10-0; 12-0; 12-3; 12-6; 17-6; 19-6; 22-6; 27-6; 27-11; 27-13; 27-18; 27-20.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Van Niekerk