Thirty minutes into their Six Nations encounter with Wales, Scotland seemed to be having the perfect tournament: a comprehensive display at Twickenham the previous week; a 17-3 lead over Wales and a bonus point win already on the cards. Everything was going to plan.
Fast-forward an hour and Scotland had lost the game 24-25. The grand slam dream was over and Gregor Townsend’s side yet again failed to deliver on all their promise. So, how did Scotland take their lead at Murrayfield, and more importantly, how did they lose it?
In the first half hour of the match Scotland’s attack was both innovative and clinical, creating two early tries. The first began with a clever offload from maverick Finn Russell to Jonny Gray who charged to the 22. With Wales’ defence not reset, Ali Price spotted space just behind the gain line and placed a beautifully weighted chip which Darcy Graham caught allowing him to score under the posts.
Scotland’s second try came from ruthless opportunism. Following a scrum Scotland ran a backs’ move to put Stuart Hogg in space and he put in an attacking kick which Wales full back Leigh Halfpenny failed to gather. Hogg capitalised on the mistake, picking up the loose ball to score.
Underpinning Scotland’s attacking flair was controlled game management. Russell, Hogg, Price and winger Duhan van der Merwe dominated territory as they pinned Wales back with their boot. Meanwhile a solid set piece gave Wales very little possession, and an impenetrable defence stifled any they did get.
Despite this early mastery over the match, Scotland nonetheless went on to lose. The narrative superimposed on the game is that the red card to prop Xander Fagerson was the turning point from which Wales mounted their comeback. This is simply false.
When Fagerson was sent off in the 53rd minute Wales had already clawed the score line back to 17-15. Though the man advantage from there on helped, it was not paramount to Wales’ victory. Rather, Fagerson’s offence was just one instance of a broader problem of Scottish indiscipline, which, combined with clinical Welsh attack, was ultimately the reason Scotland lost.
Prior to Wales’ first try, Scotland were attacking in the Welsh 22, looking for their third try. Three consecutive infringements, however, allowed Wales to make their way deep into Scotland’s territory from where slick handling put Louis Rees-Zammit in the corner. Likewise, Wales’ second and third try came from possession in Scotland’s 22 which had been gifted to them through penalties.
To pin the result entirely on Scottish indiscipline, though, would do a disservice to Wales’ performance as several players had fantastic games. Rees-Zammit blossomed on Saturday finishing his first try well, assisting Liam Williams for Wales’ second try and winning the match with an incredible score in the 69th minute. Fly half Callum Sheedy was influential off the bench being one of the main catalysts for Wales comeback as he allowed his side to attack in the expansive way coach Wayne Pivac has encouraged. In the pack Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens and Wyn Jones were all industrious, tackling and carrying hard throughout.
Wales somehow now find themselves on two wins from two. They will hope to capitalise on this momentum and seal the Triple Crown next week against England. Scotland, on the other hand, will be very disappointed to have thrown away such a lead. As they head to Paris next weekend against an in-form, but coronavirus hit, France they stare down the barrel of one win from three. An all too familiar mediocrity for Scottish rugby.
Image: David Molloy Photography via Wikimedia.
The image is a photo of Scotland prop Zander Fagerson in a Scotland jersey.