For Scotland, it was a worryingly familiar result, this. Gregor Townsend’s men travelled to Wales with some expectation surrounding them. For a change, the Scotland team man for man on paper looked like they had the edge.
No one told Dan Biggar though, as the 100 test-cap skipper steered his team through choppy waters before slotting the winning drop goal just minutes after his Scottish counterpart Finn Russell had attempted a similar move half-heartedly when it wasn’t really on.
Scotland had a late penalty that gave them possession for the dying minutes. Despite looking reasonably comfortable through a few phases, Jonathan Davies (also on 100 test appearances) turnover stole away any chance of robbing the Welsh of the win they deserved.
It had started a lot more brightly, at least for an opening couple of minutes where Matt Fagerson found easy holes in the Welsh defence. It looked like Scotland might run away with it, if they could keep the ball.
Scotland looked the more comfortable in both defence and attack, but found themselves 6-0 down in short order. The cauldron of the Principality Stadium does not take long to douse Scottish dreams with cold reality.
As last week against England, there were glimpses of the Scotland we know exists and clamour to see and there were flashes again today but they were far too few.
A line break by Chris Harris (of all people) and strong carries by the impressive Sione Tuipulotu gave Finn Russell the space to spin it wide to Darcy Graham who backed himself to dot it down in the corner.
As the game restarted, Russell fluffed a touch finder but Scotland profited anyway with a kickable penalty, Wales caught offside at the clearance kick. It was like that, with Hogg and Graham also riding their luck in a couple of incidents (deliberate knock on, dump tackle) that while probably well refereed by Nic Berry, we’ve all seen given as penalties or worse in recent years.
After half an hour, Matt Fagerson went off injured and Scotland were on a warning for ill-discipline in the Welsh 22. Tomas Francis flopped over from the maul to tie the scores going in to half time, with the conversion missed.
Scotland gave the illusion of comfort in possession, but patiently Wales waited for the visitors to cough it up.
Half-time: Wales 14-14 Scotland
The picture in the second half was considerably different. Wales came out with a much clearer approach. Unfortunately for the neutral that mean more kicking and Scotland’s playmakers in that regard in Russell and Hogg came off second best in most areas – witness the late drop goal attempts by respective standoffs. Has Finn ever made one?
Scotland looked for a few minutes like they might try injecting pace into the game through the bullocking runs of Tuipulotu, and it might have worked. But like a drowning man appearing briefly to wave for assistance, they soon disappeared once again under the surface of a red wave and reverted to losing the arm wrestle Wales had dragged them into.
Every time the pack injected a bit of go forward – and the fact was, when it worked it looked like it really would bring dividends if they continued that way – one of the backs knocked it on, or lost support and was pinged for holding on.
By the time Rory Darge got on for his first cap it was a very cagey affair going into the final quarter of the game. Both Liam Williams and Dan Biggar hobbled for large portions of the second half and yet somehow still managed to be more effective than Russell and Hogg. Biggar managed to get a penalty off the posts which Scotland then obligingly knocked on to give the hosts advantage, Alex Cuthbert touched down in the corner but was ruled in touch.
The TMO went back to look at a knock on by Finn that was ruled deliberate. Perhaps a little unfair but given how Hogg got away with his, there could be few complaints. The Scots were given hope when Biggar took his drop goal as the prize rather than spreading it wide for the try. It was still only a three point game.
Restored to fifteen men further hope bloomed in Scottish hearts with a last penalty for a high tackle on Sam Skinner – this, like others before it, could have seen a card but didn’t – and one last possession. Wales were able to corral them in an area either side of the haf way line and by the time Davies snaffled the ball it was no less than Wales deserved.
Scotland will need to have a long hard look at themselves after this one – the poor decision making came from the leaders in the team and while the referee or the conditions both played a part, brief spells showed Scotland should have had enough to come away from this with a win. Yet again, fans are left asking why they didn’t – or if they couldn’t?
Referee: Nic Berry (ARU)
SRBlog Player of the Match: Darcy Graham was the only player to stay on the pitch the whole way through and emerge in any credit. Matt Fagerson and Tuipulotu were good but the wee winger was the best Scot on the pitch by a mile.