With both sides taking to a packed Millenium Stadium with the roof shut and a lot to prove, this was either going to be very entertaining in a good way and tight at the end. Or if you are Scottish, like watching a car crash.
It was the car crash.
Scotland had an early penalty and Weir kicked deep into touch for the lineout rather than chance his foot on a kick at the edge of his and Laidlaw’s range. With the pre-game plan from Kelly Brown to ignore the 50-50s but the Welsh defence usually holding firm, it remained to be seen which kicking to the corner would turn out to be. As it was Scotland knocked on, but a Welsh defender offside gave Scotland one they could kick.
The Welsh weren’t in the mood for kicking much either with their early penalty going to the corner and the big battering rams going up Duncan Weir’s channel. Like Scotland though they opted for the points when the kick was more to their liking. This period also saw Kelly Brown sent to the sidelines with a head knock as Scottish defenders paid for keeping Wales out. Worrying, but not catastrophic with Strokosch able to come on. Although it did leave the Scots definitely without a ball-fetching 7.
Wales were using their power well in the fast-paced opening twenty minutes, although Scotland at least had points on the board which they failed to do when lasted refereed by Jerome Garces. They were struggling for quick ball under Welsh pressure at the breakdown and resorting to offloads that weren’t on.
The Welsh approach paid off after fifteen minutes when Liam Williams made the most of the overlap to soar over – possibly soaring more than is necessary – for the game’s opening try. Wales wanted to open it up, and an entertaining game would suit our back three as well which included débutant Dougie Fife and our stand out player of the tournament so far in Stuart Hogg.
Hogg unfortunately made a devastating impact on the game in all the wrong ways by chasing up his ineffectual kick from first receiver, then shoulder barging Dan Biggar’s chin in the air. It was hard to see why he did it, Biggar didn’t need to feel the heat, Hogg shouldn’t have been frustrated as Scotland were still in the game. Perhaps you’d see it late in the game, but there was no need for it at that point.
Garces rightly felt it was a yellow from his initial view and after reviewing it on the big screen with Hogg on his way to the bin, upgraded him to a red which was also hard to argue with. Regardless of whether the referee has the power to change his decision via a big screen, Hogg’s action was needless, stupid and ended the match as a contest, Scotland’s Six Nations for 2014 and Scott Johnson’s tenure as coach an hour too early and all too sadly.
The flood gates didn’t open immediately, as Scotland even found some ball to play with but unable to find a way through with one attacker less. Soon afterwards George North got on the board with an excellently worked try, Roberts grabbed one set up by North and Davies would have had another were it not for Faletau being offside. When put near the back two as they now were, they found space too easy to find and regardless of the aesthetics of Gatland ball his finishers are bracingly effective.
From a game that promised so much, this was only entertaining if you were wearing red.
North scored another within the first two minutes of the second half and Dougie Fife wasn’t able to tackle North into touch. But to be fair he should have had more time because there should have been a full-back on the pitch.
Roberts scored another after Wales went the length of the pitch and the rout turned quickly to embarrassment as Wales ran in more tries and tired Scottish defenders dropped off tackles. I couldn’t tell you many of the positives as the rest was hard to watch. Cusiter got a good last 20 minutes which as usual was too late, upping the intensity of the game and giving Scotland at least some attacks on the Welsh line. He made line breaks too It’s a shame he hasn’t had more game time this tournament.
When they had some ball Scotland kept possession well, but they were chasing such a target at 44-3 that too much was forced, and too little was achieved. Ford’s line-out was good, Gray and Denton carrid manfully and tackled forcefully as they have done all tournament. Which made the fact this was no sort of contest by this point all the harder to take.
At the end Scotland broke free with some lovely hands and a Ryan Wilson pass into touch pretty much summed up the game, the tournament, and all the tournaments since, well, Matt Williams.
Today though wasn’t about how many pro-teams we have or how we develop our youngsters or whether we import too many players. Hoggy – who is a Lion, has a bunch of caps and is a world-class talent in several areas of his game – had a rush of blood to the head and made life impossible for his team-mates for 60 minutes of an 80 minute game. Against a team with the power and experience of this Welsh group it is not sustainable.
I just hope Hogg doesn’t take it too hard, as I know what playing for his country means to the young man, and I shudder to think the backlash that may await him on Twitter.
This should have been a test of how the young Scotland backline could face up to some world-class opponents who were stuttering a bit and see if they could take advantage, while testing our pack against a very good defence and a genuine open-side to see if we could cope.
Unfortunately we never got to see that, Wales played what was in front of them, we didn’t cope, and another Six Nations tournament best forgotten ends for Scotland.