A Wales team that took a battering in the Autum arrived in Edinburgh newly full of confidence to a venue they have no trouble winning in and duly kept the head, kicked the points and walked away with the win against a Scotland team that had talked of championship chances ahead of the game but were never given a chance to show if in fact they are that calibre of team.
In a game that was dominated by penalties (the official count was 28, 16-12), referee Craig Joubert was always going to be a controversial figure at the centre of the game. Frequently raising the ire of the crowd was to be expected, but what was less forgivable was the constant stream of whistles that disrupted all attempts to build momentum, that destroyed the game and in particular the scrum as a contest.
Wales took an early lead after a series of scrums that had begun with Scotland putting in – the lottery at this set piece continues. After two free kicks Joubert warned he would upgrade and sure enough Wales did the necessary to earn a shot at goal.
It was a similar story soon after Richie Gray left injured in the first half hour, Duncan Weir – who had kicked brilliantly from hand – put through a great wee chip and then hoofed it on the bounce to force Biggar over his own try line. Sadly Joubert spotted another early engagement at the 5m scrum and it was a penalty to Wales.
Early analysis suggests Gray has injured a hamstring and could be out for a fair chunk of the season remaining, although this does not necessary mean his Lions hopes are over.
Halfpenny had a shaky start in front of goal and took far too long over most of his kicks which led to jeering. Call it unsportsmanlike, but the crowd were quiet until they adjudged a decent amount of time to have lapsed. He missed three attempts in the first half to Laidlaws one, and it left Scotland only a point behind going in to half time.
Despite the loss of Ryan Jones early in the second half, Wales still looked dangerous and confident and Tipuric was no poor substitute. Even when Scotland defended staunchly and turned Welsh ball over for a scrum it was no great bonus, as Joubert proved when he awarded Wales another soft penalty.
In the battle of the Lions fullbacks elect, Halfpenny took the kudos, displaying composure to re-find his kicking form and steady hands under the high ball. Hogg was a livewire ball in hand, but Wales were much happier for him to run at them than say, Italy had been.
Visser and Maitland also had sporadic moments in the game but were rarely introduced from set or phase play, while Scott and Lamont were almost invisible in attack. Scott’s one bright moment came with a perfectly judged kick that bumbled right into the Welsh corner and Scotland earned a penalty from the resulting play. Although they would have preferred a longer (or any sort of) advantage as Wales fumbled about on the deck.
Nowhere was the back’s lack of ball more starkly illustrated than in the last ten minutes that saw Scotland camped on the Welsh line. Score quickly and the game was back on. Instead the forwards elected to batter away while the backs to a man screamed for the ball to come out wide. Wales soaked it up for long enough to make a try redundant in terms of the match. Scotland failed to score one, in any case.
So of course you could argue that never mind the ref, Scotland, as is often the case, were architects of their own particular folly. In addition to an inability to engage when Joubert would have liked, a steady stream of sloppy turnovers ended all the positive work done by Weir’s boot and the strong runs from Hogg, Beattie and Maitland to get the team going forward. The positional play was correct and the game plan worked pretty well in the first half, but come the second Scotland failed to capitalise; all Wales had to do was stay patient and take their kicks.
After their failure to score in the closing moments, Paul James was sin-binned to give Scotland a man advantage but by then it was too late, despite the exhortation of the bustling crowd. When Scotland failed to score and Joubert awarded the inevitable penalty against them Wales celebrated as they knew that was the match sewn up.
SR Blog Man of the Match: Sam Warburton – a constant nuisance and hasn’t taken long to find his form.