Wales exploit gaps in Scottish defence in clash of little value
ANOTHER Wales-Scotland match in Cardiff, another Wales win. This one will resonate least of the recent run of such results, sneaked in at an unfamiliar time of year, the selections compromised, the motives suspect.
The really important matter lay beyond rugby. This match will be remembered for the inauguration of the Doddie Weir Cup, in honour of the guest of honour, who is battling motor-neurone disease with all the dignity and good humour we have come to know so well.
Those who remember what happened on the field at all will attribute Wales’s win to superior Welsh power, particularly through the outside-centre channel, Huw Jones missing the crucial tackle for each of Wales’s two tries. George North went over for his 34th for Wales in the first half, and in the second it was Jonathan Davies sprung through the same gate.
No arguing with the victory, even if neither side hit the heights bar in the odd surge here and there. Wales scored on those two occasions that they threatened; Scotland did not, Alex Dunbar’s break through Hadleigh Parkes a highlight of their first half, and Peter Horne’s near miss that of the second. Neither side seemed entirely sure of themselves at any stage.
Rugby is torn over these Tests outside the international window. The Welsh and Scottish unions managed to get this one past the welfare police by announcing it as in support of Weir.
And then it transpired that no proceeds from the game would be donated to his cause. Cue rugby’s latest humiliating climbdown, the two unions shamed into promising a six-figure donation to the former Scotland player’s cause.
It lent the match an uncertain status, no-one really knowing what to expect from a fixture whose long and exciting history has overwhelmingly been consigned to the first few months of the year.
Both sides felt their way in accordingly. Any players based outside their respective countries were unavailable, so new combinations were on show in key positions for both teams.
Scotland had promising youngsters in the No 10 and 15 shirts, Adam Hastings’ selection particularly anticipated.
The son of Gavin got off to a nervy start, a couple of loose kicks from hand hardly inspiring confidence, but he has a swagger that bodes well, and he kicked with assurance from the tee to land a penalty and conversion in the second quarter.
By the time he’d landed the first, Wales were 9-0 up without really doing anything. Thirteen penalties in the first half did not help the game’s flow, but it did give Leigh Halfpenny the chance to do his thing from the tee, before North registered his latest try on the half-hour. Scotland’s defence had been vigorous, but North exploded on to a pass from behind Jonathan Davies’s dummy run, and Huw Jones was done for.
Scotland responded swiftly to the 14-3 deficit that established. Stuart McInally, captain in the absence of players such as John Barclay and Greig Laidlaw, finished off a lineout and drive that Wales defended with rather less vigour. They continued their new dominance into the second half, but it was Wales who struck next.
Huw Jones was exposed again in defence, but this time it was more a case of his being isolated in a midfield bewitched by a sweet Welsh move from a lineout. Gareth Anscombe looped menacingly behind Parkes and released Jonathan Davies to get past the lonely Jones.
Wales took a grip of proceedings. Scotland looked at a loss to find a way through or around the wall, until they worked one down the right. Blair Kinghorn, accomplished at fullback, combined with Tommy Seymour and George Horne to set Alex Dunbar at the line.
Elliot Dee was coaxed into a yellow-card offence, and Scotland thought they had scored through the Horne brothers. George chipped in-goal, but Peter could not quite manage to ground the ball. It was as close as either side would come. They now welcome the rest of their number, as the autumn window opens officially.
Scorers — Wales: North, J Davies tries; Halfpenny con, Halfpenny pens (3). Scotland: McInally try; Hastings con, Hastings pen. Wales: Halfpenny; L Morgan, J Davies, Parkes, North; Anscombe, G Davies; N Smith, Owens, Lewis, Hill, A W Jones, Lydiate, Tipuric, Moriarty. Reps: Dee, R Evans, Brown, Beard, Wainwright, T Williams, J Evans, S Evans.
Scotland: Kinghorn; Seymour, H Jones, Dunbar, L Jones; Hastings, Price; Dell, McInally, Nel, Toolis, Gray, Ritchie, Watson, Wilson. Reps: Brown, Allan, Berghan, Gilchrist, Fagerson, G Horne, P Horne, Graham.
Referee: M Raynal (France)
George North touches down only for the try to be ruled out for a foot in touch during yesterday’s match in Cardiff. Photo: David Davies