Call off the Grand Slam party, for it won’t be happening this year, as Scotland narrowly lost out to Wales courtesy of some Louis Rees-Zammitt brilliance, a Zander Fagerson red-card (we’ll talk about that more later) and a tactical turnaround accomplished by the Welsh which saw them clinically score when they could.
The first set-piece went Wales’ way as Zander Fagerson was pinged for collapsing, but the line-out went awry and into the arms of Hamish Watson.
Wales were quickly given another attacking line-out and although they couldn’t break through, Scotland conceded a third penalty – this time through Chris Harris – just inside the 22 to give Leigh Halfpenny an easy pop at goal for a 3-0 lead to the away side.
Russell’s high-hanging restart was fumbled by Wales and once Scotland had retained possession they won a penalty which was within kicking range – especially for Hogg – but instead Russell went to the line.
Another penalty was conceded by Wales as Scotland attacked the line, Alun Wyn Jones infringed and Russell equalised off the tee.
Chris Harris had made a couple of charges to test the new look Welsh midfield, which led to a penalty which again Russell took to the line.
That line-out went awry but Scotland were now starting to dominate the territory, and took the lead through a lovely score.
Russell dished to Jonny Gray who bulldozed up to the 22. A couple of phases later Ali Price put a lovely dink over the top off his right-foot for Darcy Graham to run onto and score the opening try.
The lead was extended after a sweeping set-piece move was kicked forward by Stuart Hogg on the right flank. Leigh Halfpenny and Louis Rees-Zammit couldn’t decide which one of them was going to tidy it up, and the captain was on hand to retrieve his kick to cross the whitewash.
A massive turnover from Wyn Jones less than 10m from the Welsh line gave Wales possession, and the first time that they’d had any decent amount of possession they managed to get up the field and score.
A string of penalties gave them a 5m line-out, and with penalty advantage, Nick Tompkins did superbly well to offload to Liam Williams out of a Chris Harris’ tackle, and Louis Rees-Zammit stepped inside Darcy Graham to cross in the right corner.
Half-time: Scotland 17 – 8 Wales
Scotland got a get out of jail free card at the start of the second half, when Gary Graham conceded a penalty about 35m out, but Dan Biggar made an absolute mess of his attempted kick to touch, straight into the hands of Duhan van der Merwe.
What could have been a 10m line-out from the Scotland line to Wales quickly became a scrum in the Wales half, but Matt Carley once again called a penalty against Zander Fagerson to release the pressure.
The home side again though came forward and it looked like Scott Cummings had pushed over from close range, but in fact Ali Price’s pass had been collected by Graham and Cummings was penalised for crossing.
Wales could find themselves fortunate not to have been penalised prior to that as they had infringed on multiple occasions close to their own line.
The lead was reduced to two-points soon afterwards as Wales had started to dominate the breakdown.
Dan Biggar had been replaced by Callum Sheedy and his kick to the corner led to a simple try for Liam Williams, the maul making serious inroads and leaving acres of space to score.
Then there came a massive decision which saw Scotland reduced to 14-men.
Similar to the Peter O’Mahony incident of last week, Zander Fagerson came charging into a ruck, leading with his arm and dropping the shoulder near Wyn Jones’ face as he exited
Carley and TMO Karl Dickson took their time, worked through the framework and decided that the tight-head had to go.
Wales took full advantage. They went to the line, the maul again worked well again and Wyn Jones squeezed the ball onto the line.
Scotland had to make a major reshuffle. Gary Graham was replaced by Richie Gray, meaning that Scott Cummings moved to blindside and Darcy Graham went off for WP Nel.
But by Christ this game wasn’t finished.
Wales were penalised over and over in their own 22, Scotland – only 3 points down – decided to scrum in centre-field with Nel now on the pitch. Another penalty. No yellow card.
Wales brought on Leon Brown at tight-head to try and stop the shove, which they did, but Stuart Hogg broke through to finish powerfully. Russell smacked over the conversion from the touchline brilliantly.
But the killer blow was delivered by the brilliant young Welsh winger Louis Rees-Zammitt. His superb solo try, chipping over the top of a labouring van der Merwe, outpacing Chris Harris and Hogg on the turn, to touch down.
As the clock ran down, Scotland had to push all the boats out. Finn Russell had a pass intercepted in the 22, but he recovered to win a turnover penalty.
With 82mins showing on the clock, Russell sent the monster winger van der Merwe into space and he bolted down the left-flank, only for a last-ditch, perfectly executed tap tackle by Owen Watkin to send Duhan sprawling and his attempt at an off-load to Hogg was too low for the captain to pick up.
An agonising defeat. We should be used to it now, but damn.
It proves again there’s so little difference between the top sides that a wee mistake here, a contentious call there, is all it takes.
SRBlog Player of the Match: Jonny Gray once again showed he has taken his game to new levels on the offensive front with the great carry to the Graham score, but El Capitano, Stuart Hogg, will receive his 2nd in a row.
Two tries, the quick feet which keep defences on edge, a well-judged leave of a grubber into the
in-goal area which spared Scottish blushes, and a decent performance all round.
Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)