Scotland have been beaten by Wales at the Millennium Stadium this afternoon after Wales overcame a first half deficit to score 17 points in the final seven minutes of power play rugby and wrestle their RBS 6 Nations 2010 match away from the visitors by 31 points to 24.
Scotland had led through two early tries, but these were canceled out when they lost Dickinson, the replacement hooker, who was sin binned after persistent infringements in the second half from the entire Scottish team – at the time, the Welsh attack looked benign.
With the additional man, and momentum gathered from a half in which they enjoyed two thirds of possession, Wales began pulling back from a ten point deficit, first by scoring a try, their second of the match, then they took three points when Byrne was tackled illegally when clean through. Scotland lost another player for the infringement.
The clock was beyond 80 minutes, and the scores locked at 24-24. Scotland could have kicked the restart straight out of play and settled for a draw. They didn’t however, and were made to pay for this lapse – their third in under ten minutes – when Williams touched down under the posts to snatch an improbable victory.
Wales had not lead the match for one minute of normal time.
This match, early errors from Wales included, followed a pattern that could have been predicted before the kickoff, except for one spark that Scotland lacked last week: Dan Parks at fly half was the stand-out player at stand-off.
Wales began with a nice attack, which ended with a knock-0n. Scotland then, from their first attack of the match, were allowed to score when John Barclay, the flanker, was somehow not tackled by two Welsh players in the middle of the pitch to jog home under the posts. This missed tackle looked incredibly out of place on the international arena, and Wales must have worried that it was to be another one of those games.
This feeling cannot have been dispelled by the rest of the first half: Scotland got points from every foray into Welsh territory, adding a further try, a penalty and a drop goal.
Andy Robinson, before the match, had hinted that drop goals first, then penalties, before tries would be sought to keep the scoreboard ticking – a good indication of the confidence he now has in his sprawling defence – but it was excellent handling and solid work up front which set up their second try, scored by replacement Max Evans. More important, however, was the quickly planned, left-footed grubber that Parks placed into the corner for Evans to touch down. This kick was slide-rule perfect, and was made all the more impressive by the pressure Parks was under – Bryne was still recovering his ground after being involved in the previous ruck and the vision Parks displayed showed just what Scotland miss when he is away.
Parks showed soon after, however, where his weaknesses are, after he sold himself well short attempting an intercept and only solid Scottish scrambled defence prevented Wales from getting back into this match on around the half hour mark.
Parks was key again when adding further points from a quickly taken drop goal.He would later miss one from an easier opportunity – the only dropped points for Scotland except for Paterson’s uncharacteristic conversion miss from out wide following Evans’ try. Paterson would make limited contribution on his 100th test for the Scots as he injured his shoulder in the first phases of play, and never recovered, before he was eventually replaced.
Scotland won this half 18-9, and every statistic was in their favour at the end of the half – most notably the error and missed tackles count. Wales had made nearly ten to Scotland’s two handling errors in 40 minutes.
The story of the half was Welsh territory leading to little after the ball was dropped at key moments, while Scotland defended confidently, and in truth never looked like conceding a try. Scotland had also added end product to their possession, and were good value for their lead. Without something changing, Scotland were clear favourites to win this match on the evidence displayed thus far.
The second half was a complete contrast to the first, however, as Wales carried the game to Scotland.
The Scots missed a perfect opportunity to take this match well beyond their hosts, however, when a forward pass at two against one meant that Kelly Brown – who thought he had scored – had a try disallowed.
This seemed to further galvanise Wales, who continued to carry the ball at Scotland constantly seeking out opportunities. The Scottish defence was every bit as strong as their counterparts were inventive. It looked like Scottish homework had paid off, as Wales were beginning to look a little jaded before a moment of inspiration from Shane Williams. Williams outpaced his man before showing his opposite man just how to pass in a last man situation when putting Lee Byrne in for a run to the line in the corner.
Despite Stephen Jones’ miss from a difficult angle, the game was back on, at 21-14.
Scotland then looked to take the match again, and were perilously close to their third – surely decisive – try when Parks kicked high to the corner where there were two large Scots bearing down on Shane Williams. The Welshman, not known for his height, leapt higher than any near him to catch cleanly in what was one of many highlights in this mesmeric match. That he managed to shout his “mark” in the process shows why he is still, at the age of 32, one of the best wingers in the world. He was caught by the Scottish players as, for certain, would the ball have been had he not made this try-saving interception.
From the restart, Dan Parks, not to be outdone, caught the ball on the ten metre line and banged over an audacious drop goal to send visiting fans into raptures and take the lead to ten points once more.
This was where it would stay, with Wales continually probing the Scottish defence, which was tiring, but coping, before another RBS 6 Nations moment of madness saw the Scottish replacement hooker Allan Jacobsen find himself in the middle of a ruck, on his feet, and well offside. The Scots had just been warned to stop infringing – they had been slowing rucks for twenty minutes, often illegally – and, when he decided to make an ill-fated grab at the ball in front of him, the writing was on the wall. Penalty. Yellow card. That this occurred on the half way line must have infuriated the watching Robinson – there was nothing professional about this foul.
Wales took four minutes to cross the line, in the process spurning the opportunity to take three points on two separate occasions, before Halfpenny finished a nice overlap – Wales using their one man advantage well by working the ball wide and eating up tackles – by rounding the defence and touching down right behind the posts.
A simple, quick conversion from Stephen Jones saw Wales come within three points of levelling.
Wales then stopped Scottish hearts when Lee Byrne, again impressive from full-back, made an excellent burst and chipped into the space under the posts. Phil Godman knew he was going to score, and tripped his man. This was a professional foul, and another card followed immediately, this time it was red. Jones did not need another invitation to take this kick at goal, and slotted home speedily.
However, the clock had passed 80 minutes in the process, and the referee was clearly heard to say that this was the last play as Blair, on as a replacement for Paterson, took the restart. Had he put it out of play, Scotland would have picked up a point today as the final whistle would have blown. Quite what the visiting team hoped to achieve with a two man disadvantage is difficult to ascertain, but Wales showed them what they could do with the reverse, when they quickly worked the ball into the Scottish 22, before the man of the moment – and, but for Parks’ epic display for the Scots, man of the match – Shane Williams carried his tiring legs over the line under the posts to seal an historic victory for Wales.
Williams shed a tear in celebrating this emotional comeback score as Jones added the simple conversion to add a flattering seven point edge to the scoreline.
The final score, 31 – 24, does not quite tell the story of this fascinating and entirely gripping game of rugby which saw errors, brilliant attacking rugby and nail-biting drama in equal measure. Neither side quite deserved to lose, and both did enough to win today. Scotland looked distraught that their game-plan, so well executed for 75 minutes, was taken to pieces by a combination of their own lack of discipline and Wales’ refusal to accept defeat.
Wales produced today when it mattered most, something they failed to do last week – the demons are somewhat exorcised – both of these teams now represent a real threat to whoever they play.
As Scotland have now dropped two matches, they must look to the Calcutta Cup and the visit of England for this season’s joy and, if today is anything to go by, they must stand a real chance of giving the old enemy a phenomenal battle. Wales can build from this and put their 2010 RBS 6 Nations campaign back together with error free performances against Ireland and France.
That rugby of this quality was between two sides who both lost their first matches is tantamount to the improvement throughout the RBS 6 Nations – thanks in no small part to the success of the Magners League, where many on display today ply their weekly trade.
This fascinating encounter will live long in the memory, Scotland will feel that next year, at Murrayfield, they have every chance of revenge.