A cold and bright day in Edinburgh after earlier downpours across much of the country saw Scotland welcome Wales to Murrayfield for the mid point of the 2017 Six Nations, and an old-fashioned but gripping test match.
It was a key game for both teams in terms of tournament position and Scotland’s over eagerness gave Wales an early attacking penalty but it only led to a Scottish scrum. The first of that particular set piece – highlighted as a worry pre-match – ended in a penalty to Scotland which might have been within Hogg’s range, but was instead sent just inside the 22 for a lineout.
Scotland put some nice attacking play together with Huw Jones the fleet-footed threat at the centre of it, but they didn’t build enough phases to make it count before Lacey blew up, Finn Russell converting it to open the scoring.
The Welsh physicality is well known but Scotland put in some big hits of their own, including John Barclay welcoming Biggar to Edinburgh with a perfectly timed hit, and Gordon Reid winning a turnover with some strong counter-rucking.
Leigh Halfpenny kicked a first penalty for Wales after Scotland were adjudged off their feet at the breakdown – where the battle was as intense as you’d expect from these two back rows.
Scotland’s next penalty led to the first “Finn” moment when he shanked his kick aiming for touch into the Welsh in goal area. However there were plenty of more successful kicks from both sides, mostly of the garryowen variety. Visser failed to deal with one from Price (who box kicked a lot, Laidlaw watchers) but Scotland were just about coping with Biggar’s pinpoint efforts.
The Welsh were making much greater inroads through their hugely physical back row of Warburton, Tipuric and Moriarty. The former Lions captain in particular was rampaging with ball in hand.
Their first try came from the simplest of hands in the backs. Rhys Webb took a quick tap and go from the scrum – there’s that set piece again – and basic take and give put Liam Williams over in the corner. They hadn’t been dominant, but Wales were worth the score.
By the time Halfpenny converted, the “how long will Hardie last” question had been answered (24 mins) and Hamish Watson was on.
A pull by Webb on a chasing Tommy Seymour prevented Lacey and the TMO from unpicking the guddle of another Welsh incursion where the ball crossed the line in a certain fashion but never would have been a try. Instead the Scots took the penalty, went down the other end and had a non-try of their own, Stuart Hogg gesticulating as if he had scored when in fact Halfpenny had grounded it.
It was on a penalty advantage though, so Russell kicked the penalty to narrow the visitors lead. Unfortunately Halfpenny cancelled it back out again on the half hour mark, and increased the lead with a further kick after Huw Jones didn’t roll away in the tackle, although Barclay was in prime position for a steal.
Scotland had their best chance before half time after nice footballing skills (and a “lateral” pass) by Hogg and Seymour at full tilt gave Huw Jones almost enough room to squeeze through. Jonathan Davies was asked to clear from his in-goal area and as against England, it wasn’t the greatest effort.
From the ensuing lineout Scotland earned a penalty which was no less than they deserved.
Half-time: Scotland 9-13 Wales
In recent years Scotland have been in charge at the break and still lost. They were far from in charge in this one; a change of some sort was needed.
As it was they went for more of the same but better executed with Russell and Hogg finding holes for Jones, Seymour and Visser who combined down the right wing for Seymour to dot down in the corner. Russell’s conversion went in off the post and Scotland were in the lead.
Scotland managed to “consolidate” – Scottish for not going catastrophically wrong at the next restart, but after a period of strong possession by the home side (and Tim Visser winning two high balls), on Wales’s next possession Jonathan Davies streaked through the Scottish defence and only a superb cover tackle from Ali Price saved the try.
Lacey had been banging on at Rob Evans and Zander Fagerson about the scrum all afternoon but the Scots managed to clear their lines, only to be done for crossing. Wales elected to shoot at goal, then after Lacey had signalled it, they went to the corner instead to the ire of the sell-out BT Murrayfield crowd.
Wales own attempt at a cute lineout move – in this case a 15 man shove – ended in a penalty to Scotland for obstruction.
The Scots charged up the park with more strong carrying from the Gray brothers and Wilson and a great dart from Price. Another bizarre moment occurred when on penalty advantage Alex Dunbar opted to kick it, well, backwards for Tim Visser to chase. He and Davies may yet both make the Lions tour but it won’t be for their kicking.
Naturally, Finn kicked the penalty instead, on a good day with the boot for the fly-half.
Just when things were looking steady, Scotland popped the ball out of the side of their own scrum, Webb gathered it and it was Tim Visser who put in a great cover tackle to drag his foot into touch.
Visser was transitioning from laughing stock to have-a-go hero.
The Welsh though were piling on the pressure in the scrum, and Scotland found it hard to escape their own half. In the end it was Lacey who loosened the pressure valve slightly when he penalised Wales in the scrum just after he had whistled Tipuric for a tip on Russell. It wasn’t nasty and Russell looked fine afterwards, but on certain days by the letter of the law it might have been a card. Not today, but then we could be thankful that this fixture wasn’t spoiled by cards when it has in the past.
Scotland then did what this Scotland side actually do best, which is to score tries.
After battering their way into position, the ball came out via Pyrgos and Russell to Hogg who as he has done all tournament timed his pass selflessly. It gave Visser at most a metre to operate in but the Dutchman’s feet were flashing across the turf and he sped round Wales back three cover for the score to make it 26-13.
With the Murrayfield crowd as fiesty as they’ve been in years and smelling blood, Wales started to make mistakes and a spot of crossing gave Finn Russell another penalty which he slotted flawlessly with 7 minutes to go.
Wales with Faletau and Roberts on, Biggar off and a 16 point deficit, threw everything they had at the Scottish defence and tried to get some offloading going but the men in navy held firm. It was too little too late for a Welsh side that has been based around physicality for too long and is only just emerging from that shell.
Battered, bruised but unbowed, Scotland emerged victorious against Wales for the first time in a decade and the first time in the lifetime of this blog.
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: The man who made the most of limited ball in the first half and in no small part answered criticism about his defence and his aerial work in the second, Tim Visser, was crucial to the outcome of this game with one assist and the try that put it to bed. Finn Russell took the sponsors award and any of the back 5 would have been worthy too with their supreme efforts to derail the Welsh back row.