This game in Cardiff will be remembered as the inaugural outing for the Doddie Weir Cup, but aside from the result there wasn’t much memorable about a tussle in which Wales stifled any Scottish attempts at creativity with superbly executed defensive strategy.
For a game with more kicking than we usually see from Scotland, the opening exchanges were notable for a missed penalty to touch by Adam Hastings and three Leigh Halfpenny penalties. Scotland’s only half decent chance came from Alex Dunbar breaking through a Hadleigh Parkes tackle but the support runners weren’t there and neither were they in the right position when Adam Hastings chipped into the goal area for Leigh Halfpenny to gather safely despite a tricky bounce. That was one of the few inroads Scotland made into the Welsh defence.
After twenty minutes Wales were up to 9-0 and Scotland were giving away a lot of penalties in the eyes of Mathieu Raynal. The Frenchman doesn’t always see eye to eye with Scottish teams at the breakdown but on these occasions most of his calls were hard to argue against.
Scotland did at least have the nudge in the scrums with Allan Dell, Stuart McInally and WP Nel earning Scotland and Hastings his first shot at goal.
Having had one try denied by the TMO due to a foot in touch, George North got the score he was after on the half hour mark; brushing off Dunbar, Huw Jones and Blair Kinghorn on his way to the line. It was painfully soft, even knowing as we do how difficult North is to stop when he gets motoring. Leigh Halfpenny uncharacteristically missed the conversion.
Thankfully Scotland responded with a score of their own, kicking two successive penalties to touch and giving the Welsh maul defence something to think about. The second effort splintered metres from the line and gave skipper Stuart McInally a clear look at the try which he took with a sidestep.
At 14-10 and with Scotland performing much better in the later stages of the second half, things were looking up. Unfortunately, that would be the scoring finished for Scotland.
Half-time: Wales 14-10 Scotland
The style of the second half was pretty similar with both sides kicking a lot and putting heavy pressure on the opposition breakdowns.
The second Welsh try was another painful moment for the Huw Jones defensive highlights reel as a simple set piece move took the ball into the midfield and Jonathan Davies ran down his channel with no more required than a simple fend.
Scotland had plenty of chances though.
There was the Jonny Gray try that the TMO ruled had been a (pretty clear) double movement after a series of pick and goes, and another what-if shortly afterwards as the lively George Horne chipped through for his brother who on first glance looked to have gathered it whilst diving but was revealed not to have control.
As Scottish pressure increased in search of a score to close the gap, Welsh indiscipline did too and Elliot Dee was sin-binned for repeated infringements near to the line. But Scotland weren’t sharp enough to capitalise on the advantages Raynal was affording them – too many times the ball stayed close in when the backs were screaming for it out wide. Whilst he offered a boost in the pace of the game from Price, George Horne was possibly too involved and often took too much time to get to the base of the ruck to distribute.
It was an interesting outing for young standoff Adam Hastings, who was under a lot more pressure than he would have experienced on the summer tour and he will have learned a lot – he saw plenty of ball. Not all of what he did was great and he wasn’t able to ghost through half gaps as he often does for Glasgow, but he didn’t look ill at ease and slotted his kicks confidently.
Without the ball Wales looked supremely confident in their defensive structure and their line speed meant every pass along the backline was fraught with danger; frequently Scotland came back inside which meant precious little for Kinghorn, Seymour or either Jones to work on.
Scotland in turn were forced to turn to their pack to try and provide incision, and as often happens they made heavy weather of it when under heavy physical pressure. Hamish Watson carried as hard as usual but the lack of a line breaker at Number 8 is still a worry and the sight of Blade Thomson going off injured at Murrayfield on Friday night may mean another look at Matt Fagerson next weekend. The rest of the bench did provide some impetus – Fraser Brown in particular. The presence of Greig Laidlaw next week might mean the Glasgow hooker gets a start.
When even the scrum decisions were going with the side packing down with seven men, you knew this wouldn’t be Scotland’s day – although will it ever be, in Cardiff?
Scotland are left still seeking an answer to this Welsh question, and are likely to face something similar – or worse – when South Africa come to town in a couple of weeks.
First up, attention will turn to Fiji and the restoration of a full strength squad
This one’s for you, Doddie. Shame about the game though eh?
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Hamish Watson battled tirelessly and was the standout in a Scotland shirt. Plenty of players (Nel, Ritchie, Gray, Hastings) were heavily involved in the action but had blots on their copybook. Watson sitting the much heftier Ross Moriarty on his backside was a memorable moment in a game short on them.