Can Scotland avoid more pain in the Principality?
Gregor Townsend tasted victory in two of his five Tests in Wales as a Scotland player. He scored his side’s only try in a 16-14 win in Cardiff in 1996, a match that marked the last time the Scots won three successive Championship matches – a feat they will seek to emulate on Saturday.
The second victory, 27-22 in 2002, concluded an otherwise unremarkable campaign – two wins from five, a fourth-place finish – but retrospectively has something of an annus mirabilis feel given the Scots won two away games (after an earlier win in Italy) for the only time in the Six Nations era.
Eighteen years on, Scotland have not won in Wales since. A mere irritant perhaps compared to the 37-year itch still waiting to be scratched at Twickenham, but still a heavy burden of history to carry after eight straight Championship defeats in Cardiff, and 10 matches in all.
Townsend was an assistant coach for two of them, and two more have come on his watch as head coach, including his first Six Nations match in charge.
Will an absence of fans and change of venue to Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets, with the Principality Stadium out of commission, signal a change in Scottish fortunes? Here is a reminder of five of the more memorable, or maddening, mishaps since Scotland’s last win on Welsh soil.
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2006 – Murray’s stray boot kicks Scots where it hurts – Wales 28-18 Scotland
Gordon Bulloch’s brace of tries in the 2002 victory helped seal Scotland’s fifth win in the Principality in two decades (after a 20-year losing run prior to that), including the Grand Slam years of 1984 and 1990.
Wales enjoyed regulation wins in the next two fixtures – a 2003 World Cup warm-up match (23-9) and the 2004 Six Nations (23-10) – before what was to become a familiar Scottish trait for self-destruction in the fixture began in 2006.
The visitors were trailing 7-3 in the 23rd minute when experienced lock Scott Murray, winning the 73rd of his 86 caps, was tackled late by Wales counterpart Ian Gough. Murray kicked out in frustration as he tried to free himself from Gough’s clutches, catching the Welshman in the face.
Kiwi referee Steve Walsh brandished the first red card the Championship had seen in five years.
Murray apologised to Walsh and Gough – who was sin-binned – as he left the field and later protested the incident was a “complete accident”, but the damage was done.
Wales built a 22-point lead before the 14 Scots rallied with injury-time tries for Hugo Southwell and Chris Paterson to give the final score some respectability.
2010 – Late capitulation adds insult to serious injury – Wales 31-24 Scotland
As an example of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, 2010 goes down as a classic of the genre. It was a car-crash of epic proportions from a Scottish perspective, with a dramatic denouement to rank with any the Six Nations has witnessed.
The visitors opened a 12-point lead on three occasions and still led 24-14 with three minutes of normal time left – albeit down to 14 men – but couldn’t close the deal.
It started so well with early tries from John Barclay and Max Evans, but perhaps the Scots should have sensed it wasn’t going to be their day when Chris Paterson, on the occasion he became the 13th player in Test history to win a 100th cap, missed the conversion of Evans’ try – ending a remarkable streak of 35 successful kicks at goal in the Championship dating back to 2007.
The full-back was then forced off with a kidney injury with Scotland leading 15-3, the start of a catastrophic series of unfortunate events.
Wing Thom Evans, aged 25, suffered what proved a career-ending neck injury before half-time after a freak collision with Wales full-back Lee Byrne. It was later revealed Evans’ vertebrae was knocked so badly out of alignment that he was just one millimetre from paralysis or even death.
Scotland missed chances to put the game to bed and the last six minutes were either horrendous or hypnotic depending on your perspective.
- 74 minutes: Replacement hooker Scott Lawson sin-binned, Scotland down to 14.
- 77 minutes: Leigh Halfpenny’s try in the right corner, converted. 21-24.
- 79 minutes: Another Scottish replacement, Phil Godman, sin-binned for tripping Byrne as he was poised to score. Stephen Jones’ penalty, 24-24.
- 80+1 minutes: Wales launch a final assault against 13 men, Shane Williams – with his arm aloft – goes under the posts in the final move of the match. Jonathan Davies, in the BBC commentary box, gives up any semblance of neutrality with an audible ‘Yes!’ as Williams dots down. Pandemonium.
2012 – More yellow peril as Scots reduced to 13 … again – Wales 27-13 Scotland
Nothing like the drama of two years previously, but familiar frustrations and failings for Scotland.
Lack of composure? Tick. At 3-3, with the game still in the balance, the Scots work through 21 phases to get within a metre of the Welsh line, before prop Allan Jacobsen knocks on.
Concentration issues? Tick. Chris Cusiter lets the kick-off at the start of the second half drift into touch after failing to control the ball with his foot. From the subsequent line-out, Wales camp in the Scots’ 22 and score their first try via Alex Cuthbert.
Indiscipline? Tick. Nick de Luca is yellow-carded for tackling Jonathan Davies without the ball. Leigh Halfpenny lands the penalty and then adds a try as Wales exploit the extra man. Rory Lamont joins De Luca in the bin for an illegal tackle on James Hook and Scotland are down to 13. Wales capitalise on the space with another try for Halfpenny. 27-6. Game over.
Late rally in a lost cause? Tick. Stuart Hogg (making his debut off the bench) knocks on metres from the Welsh line as he tries to pick up a poor pass when a walk-in beckoned. Greig Laidlaw dots down from close range to end Scotland’s drought of four try-less Tests, but it is scant consolation on another chastening day.
2014 – Hoggy sees red in record Championship defeat (Wales 51-3 Scotland)
Right up there in the annals of Cardiff calamities. A record Championship defeat and a record number of tries conceded – seven – in the Six Nations.
Another red card, again with barely a quarter of the game gone. For Scott Murray in 2006, read Stuart Hogg eight years later. Wales were leading 10-3 in the 22nd minute when the Scottish full-back – chasing his own kick – caught fly-half Dan Biggar on the jaw with a late shoulder charge.
French referee Jerome Garces initially showed Hogg a yellow card, but after watching replays of the incident on the stadium screen, summoned him back onto the pitch before changing it to a red.
There were no complaints from Hogg as he became the third Scotsman – following Nathan Hines and Murray – to be sent off in an international.
The 14 men offered little resistance initially as five Welsh tries arrived in a 19-minute spell either side of the interval. At 44-3 by the 53rd minute, it could have been a whole lot worse, but remarkably Scotland didn’t concede again until six minutes from time.
The 48-point winning margin doubled Wales’ previous biggest victory (46-22 at Murrayfield in 2005) against the Scots, who finished a disastrous Six Nations campaign – illuminated only by a last-minute, one-point win in Rome – on an all-time low.
2018 – Captain ‘speechless’ after Welsh douse Scots’ fire – Wales 34-7 Scotland
After a ninth consecutive defeat – 27-23 – by the Welsh in 2016, Scotland ended a decade of misery against their Celtic cousins with victory at Murrayfield the following year and arrived in Cardiff two years ago in buoyant mood having dazzled in the autumn series against Australia and New Zealand.
Scotland were happy to talk themselves up in the build-up and started with the confidence of a side at ease with inflated expectations. But two minutes in, scrum-half Ali Price’s long pass was picked off by his opposite number Gareth Davies, who sprinted 70m to score.
A poorly selected Scottish side disintegrated. In midfield, Huw Jones looked ill at ease in a first outing at inside centre (not repeated since), missing a couple of key tackles, while Chris Harris fared little better in his first Test start outside Jones. Number eight Cornell du Preez, in his first and only Six Nations start to date, was anonymous and removed early in the second half.
Leigh Halfpenny scored his first Test tries in five years and helped himself to a personal-best haul of 24 points – his top three are all against Scotland – as the visitors had to wait until the 79th minute to get on the scoreboard with a try from Pete Horne.
Captain John Barclay declared himself “speechless” at the end, lamenting “too many individual errors and too many missed tackles”. A beaming Wales coach Warren Gatland, meanwhile, boasted he had expected his side to win “reasonably comfortably” and predicted a 20-point victory to his chief executive at the previous day’s team run.
It was certainly a chastening first Six Nations experience as head coach for Townsend, who struggled to contain his “shock” that his men had “played so badly given we played so well in our last game”.
A subsequent ‘friendly’ defeat – 21-10 – later that year in a first-ever autumn match in Wales means the pain in the Principality has bled into double-figure digits.
Two years on, Townsend and his troops have reasons to believe, but they did two years ago too. Can they throw off the shackles of recent history and write a new, uplifting chapter? The monkey on Scottish backs will take some shifting, but it’s not beyond them.