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RWC 2021: Talking points from Wales v Scotland

Rachel Malcolm
WHANGAREI, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 09: Rachel Malcolm is tackled during the Pool A Rugby World Cup 2021 New Zealand match match between Wales and Scotland at Northland Events Centre on October 09, 2022, in Whangarei, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Sunday saw another chapter in the big book of Scottish rugby heartbreak and, as the closest and
most nail-biting of the matches in the first round of this year’s World Cup, generated a lot of
conversation.

Here are some notable points from the game:

We can build from a strong set-piece

Scotland were dominant at the scrum and the line out. Their driving maul was also potent – with Wales often having to stop this dominance illegally. Having watched Australia’s last few matches, although they improve game on game, set piece might be one area where they are slightly weaker than the teams around them. Retaining these standards will be absolutely key to having a chance of a win against the Wallaroos.

We need quick ball

The commentators noted during the game that in the Six Nations, Scotland had significantly quicker ruck speed than Wales, but that Wales were managing to significantly reduce that advantage during Sunday’s game.

Scotland’s attack was blunted as a result.

It may have been on the borderline of legality at times, but it was a very effective tactic from Wales.
Australia have a fearsome back-row trio, so Scotland will need to find a way to stop them from getting into the game through the breakdown.

The scramble defence saved some blushes

Wales made seven line breaks to Scotland’s one and could have shipped some more points if it wasn’t for great try savers from the likes of Caity Mattinson and Lisa Thompson tracking back. Mattinson’s on Joyce was particularly special, given the Welsh woman’s attacking prowess, but Scotland need to sort out whatever disconnect in the defensive line was allowing the holes in the first place, as the Wallaroos have Sevens players in their back line who will be sure to exploit it.

Professionalism works

In the last couple of Six Nations, without meaning to be unkind, I wondered how Elinor Snowsill got into the Wales team. She was clearly smart and experienced but her kicking was poor for a stand-off. You can find more about the changes she’s made to her game in a couple of Squidge Rugby videos, but her player-of-the-match performance here really was night and day from the past showings.

Although Scotland’s average kicking distance from hand (24.1 metres) was a little longer than
Wales’ (21.2 metres), professionalism has really helped improve this aspect of Wales’ game. And with Snowsill off the field, there was another ready place-kicker in Keira Bevan, who should be commended for
holding her nerve and executing under pressure.

Knowing they had this in the locker, probably helped Wales to patiently and slowly run through the phases at the end as well, not having to take too many risks. I can’t wait to see the impact that the forthcoming professional contracts can have on our players’ skillset.

You can’t always take the referee out of the game

Coach and captain have been very clear that the refereeing isn’t what lost Scotland the game. It is true that we had enough scoring opportunities to win it in other ways, so I’m not going to argue otherwise.

But the reluctance to award a yellow card for so long, did compound things for Scotland in a very unfortunate way. As mentioned above, Wales were managing to slow down play at the breakdown, and although Rachel Malcolm did point out to the officials how much this was happening, that clearly falls within the boundaries of playing to the ref.

With this thwarting a lot of Scotland’s attacking play, and with Helen Nelson having a bad day from the
tee, their best source of points was likely to be either directly off their powerful driving maul or from
a first-phase attack after a maul. And every time that Wales stopped that illegally (or were dominated at the scrum), it was just another penalty. The best choice: kick to the corner. Another illegal stoppage, another penalty, but no further sanction and no points on the board. Kick to the corner, repeat and repeat.

Scotland understandably kept turning to their best chance of scoring but it was being stopped by a very
streetwise team who were given little incentive to change their behaviour.

This was less playing to the ref than relying on her largesse. In another game, Scotland might not have been so reliant on this option and, in the longer term, the challenge for Scotland is to increase their adaptability, goal-kicking and ensure that they have as many attacking approaches as possible.

That will take the referee out of game, but I do also hope for some bolder reffing in other games, as it wasn’t just Scotland fans who seemed frustrated.

Scotland face a quick turnaround

One of the longer-term concerns for Scotland has been strength in depth. This was a very physical game, but thirteen of the starting XV stayed on the pitch for the whole match. It’s understandable in such a tight game that the coaches would want to make sure there was as much experience out there as possible. But with one day’s less rest than the Wallaroos, let’s hope it doesn’t prove a disadvantage if that game also
comes down to a close finish.

Stand out stars

At the end of the day, there are lots of positives to take from the game, including the way Scotland came back and bossed the second half. So let’s finish on a brighter note and highlight the stats that show who stood out.

Rachel Malcolm made a round one joint-highest 24 tackles. Jade Konkel-Roberts was not far behind
with 18 and was also second across the round for carries with 19. Sarah Bonar won four turnovers –
the joint best for the weekend, ensuring that there was not too much lost without a specialist
openside flanker in the team.

Onwards to the Wallaroos on Saturday!

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