On the day of Alun-Wyn Jones breaking the record for Test match appearances, Scotland trashed his party at the empty Parc Y Scarlets to grind out a first win in Wales for 18 years.
Russell’s touchline seeking kick-off got us under way, and although claimed by Jonathan Davies Scotland quickly turned possession over. As they looked for space wide left, Liam Williams was penalised for playing the ball off his feet, giving Finn Russell the first opportunity at a shot at goal.
On a blustery day – which didn’t appear on television at least, to be as hideous as had been suggested – the talismanic fly-half saw his effort drift right and hold up short, allowing Wales to clear their lines.
Wales’ first attacking drive was also wind-affected. Having won a penalty at a scrum they worked their way up the pitch until forcing Darcy Graham out over the sidelines to win the line-out just outside the Scotland 22. The throw wobbled and refused to sit down, allowing a grateful Fraser Brown to take possession.
Scotland did get the first points on the board from a Russell penalty, awarded against the unfortunate Ryan Elias for playing the ball from an offside position after Hogg’s up and under hung up in the wind so much that the chasing Darcy Graham nearly overran it.
Both sides were struggling with their line-outs due to the gusting wind, but Scotland looked the more comfortable with ball in hand and had managed to win a couple of penalties at the breakdown.
When one of those penalties led to a successfully completed line-out in the Welsh 22, Stuart Hogg nearly sent Chris Harris in, only for the Gloucester man to spill the pass with Dan Biggar in his eyeline.
As the 25th minute approached, the rain began to teem down. A poor kick from Hogg gave Wales an attacking platform, and a delightful chip from Taulupe Faletau, of all people, gave Scotland a pressure line-out.
The last couple had been completed, but in these conditions, it was a bit of a lottery. Brown went for the risky option, but it went over Cummings’ outstretched hands to Elias. It was only a matter of time before Rhys Carre bundled his way over from such short range.
Wales going into an unlikely lead was bad enough, however bad luck comes in threes, so part two was the site of Finn Russell limping off the pitch with what looked like a groin strain.
An excellent turnover penalty won by Jamie Ritchie prevented part three, but it did arrive when Adam Hastings deft kick carried, rolled, and dribbled out over the sideline in the goal area. Instead of clearing from coffin corner, Wales got the scrum back in Scotland’s half.
However, as the rain stopped and the sun came out, Scotland’s fortunes began to brighten. More good breakdown work saw Scotland win the possession they had dominated back, and after Kinghorn had juggled the ball on his way into the Wales 22, James “Cubbi” Davies – a late replacement for Justin Tipuric in the Wales starting line-up – conceded the ninth Wales penalty of the half.
Hastings stroked over the penalty to reduce the deficit to a point, which seemed scant reward for the first half efforts. What is it with us and going long at pressure line-outs?
Half-time: Wales 7 – 6 Scotland
Although he reappeared for the start of the second period, it wasn’t long before Wales lost Dan Biggar, and there were fears for Adam Hastings when he landed awkwardly on his left arm during the next passage of play, but thankfully he was able to continue.
The Scotland replacement stand-off showed no ill effects when gliding into the Wales 22 soon afterwards, but that famed Welsh defence managed to force the turnover just a few phases later.
Scotland’s ability to turn momentum against themselves reared its ugly ahead.
Firstly, Brown needlessly ran across Liam Williams’ path which led to Wales having a close-range line-out but luckily for Scotland, Wyn Jones went off his feet at a ruck with the try-line beckoning.
Then, having cleared to touch and claimed the line-out, Ali Price couldn’t remove the ball after being told by referee Andrew Brace to “Use it”. Scrum Wales.
Price somewhat redeemed himself when contributing to another Jamie Ritchie penalty win, and then his quick tap added kept Scotland moving and the game in Wales’ half.
McInally turned pressure into points when he scored from a rolling maul, but a breakdown brain-fart from him and another penalty let Leigh Halfpenny slot over to make it a 10-11 game.
With ten minutes remaining a major back reshuffle was required. The earlier knock to Hastings proved too much – he had tended to run the ball, and with some reward, rather than pass – so Hogg moved to stand-off, Kinghorn went to full-back, and scrum-half Scott Steele came on for his debut. On the wing.
The reshuffle didn’t halt the momentum though, as Scotland’s replacements stepped up. The latest Springjock duo of Oli Kebble and Duhan van Der Merwe showed their strength, and when the former won a scrum penalty – to his roaring delight – Scotland played with great game management, Price dictating proceedings.
When he chipped to the touchline after 20 phases of Scottish possession, Wales had to throw caution to the wind. A cute line-out move by Halfpenny and Williams made up some of the metres, but keen Scottish defence forced them back and then forced the error, the immovable Ritchie clamping onto the ball after James Lang caught Jonathan Davies in isolation.
Hogg used every last allocated second to ensure time was up before thumping over the kick. Scotland had won on the road against one of the big boys.
It may have been a scrappy match in rubbish conditions, but it’s exactly these kind of matches we’ve not been able to win against the stifling sides like Wales and Ireland. Sticking 50 points on Australia is lovely, but repeatedly getting squeezed out by a score or less isn’t so much. Has Toony now found the magical formula?
The one gloomy outcome from the match is the loss of both Russell and Hastings, with Townsend later confirming that Russell had indeed suffered a groin and Hastings shoulder had popped out twice.
SRBlog Player of the Match: I had already decided this before Jonathan Davies said it on BBC comms, and I have to agree that Jamie Ritchie was the best player on the park. Three important turnover penalties, he worked hard both sides of the ball with a line-break or two in offence. Gatland can’t have missed him.
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)