Scotland arrived in Cardiff with high hopes following a strong autumn. That has happened before. Things did not go the way they hoped in Cardiff.
That also, has happened before.
As predicted, the game was played at a furious high tempo, and with that came plenty of changes in possession. Yes, there was chaos, but the only ones who would have found it gratifying were playing in red. The Welsh chaos felt intuitive, supportive and incisive. Scotland’s version was confused and panicky.
Losing two tries within 12 minutes was exactly the start that Scotland did not want. The first was after a long period of play and Ali Price threw a pass aimed at Welsh that was picked off by Gareth Davies who ran the length. At that point, Scotland had actually looked okay with a big charge by Jonny Gray giving the away fans something to cheer.
Leigh Halfpenny scored the second minutes later after Price was whistled – quite rightly – for a squint feed when Scotland had a scrum in their own 22. Wales recycled carefully and spun it wide to their fullback who scored his first try for Wales in 5 years. The defence was far, far too inviting.
Chris Harris had a start to forget as he was given several hospital passes in the face of determined tackling from the mostly-Scarlets backline and Scott Williams in particular, including one from a set scrum at the tail end of the half when Scotland had a rare incursion into the Welsh 22 following an excellent chip and chase by Huw Jones. Harris was barely involved in the rest of the match.
The lineout was a weapon in the autumn played with pace and accuracy, but it misfired badly in the first half here. McInally was at least a positive in the loose as the Scottish pack failed to make a dent in the Welsh defence.
If you were looking for a positive – the scrum was very solid indeed. No worries, eh?
Half-time: Wales 14-0 Scotland
The second half started with Scotland failing to clear their lines and John Barclay conceding a penalty at the breakdown. Another identical one from the captain 7 minutes later gave Wales the perfect start and continued Scotland’s misery.
With just half an hour to play and Laidlaw and Wilson on to perhaps provide some respite, the first scrum penalty against Scotland came.
At 20-0 The game was already out of sight. From “roughly two tries a game” Scotland were looking at a big fat zero and their tactics weren’t helping. There was too much aimless kicking which gave the players a breather – they looked knackered – but it was utterly useless as a way to get them on the scoreboard. The midfield had no ball to play with and the tactic of unstructured nonsense in the backs only works when you have momentum and a platform from the forwards.
Hamish Watson carried tirelessly and Hogg did what he could from the back, but there was no platform. By 64 minutes Halfpenny had another try, and Wales were chasing the bonus point. Replacement Wyn Jones barrelled over for what looked like the vital score but it was adjudged held up by the TMO.
With front row replacements on the Welsh scrum finally got the edge and the lineout continued to wilt under Welsh pressure. Makeshift they may have been but the Welsh defended their turf like their lives depended on it and attacked when it was on to do so, not just because they wanted to.
A superb finish by Steff Evans put the final nail in the coffin and secured the bonus. Pete Horne scored a try with a sneak from the base but the TMO let that one go, sparing Scottish blushes to put some points on the board with 78 minutes gone.
Basically, it was Scotland of old, the Scotland that the rest of the world sees, the slightly talented but ineffectual and mentally weak view of the team that we all take such umbrage at.
Maybe actually they are right, and we are wrong?
It’s hard to argue with it based on this evidence when a team looks so helpless and without a plan. When they forget everything they’ve ever done and play like someone has just showed them a bad computer game of rugby five minutes before kickoff.
It was so disappointing to see from a Scotland team that played so well last year. We can take losses yes, but when there is spirit, when there is effort and focus like there was against New Zealand. When there are so many errors and a lack of direction, it is the Scotland of old and one that we and the players had thought was perhaps in the past. I can only hope that there is a sea change next week when France will visit.
For another year, the wait for happier times goes on. The Wooden Spoon is once again a dangerous reality.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (FFR)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Hamish Watson was one of the few Scotland players to emerge with any credit for tireless effort and the only decent carrying by any of the pack. The starting props were useful in the set-piece but anonymous like much of the team.