Six Nations archive: How Welsh tactics came unstuck

Scotland full-back Andy Irvine thwarts his opposite number JPR Williams
Scotland full-back Andy Irvine thwarts his opposite number JPR Williams
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Norman Mair gives his verdict on a Scots win to savour from 1973

Scotland 10 Wales 9

The Scotsman, 5 February, 1973

“ENJOY the win and your night,” Ian McLauchlan was telling his less experienced troops on Satutrday evening, and I never heard more sensible words in my life, “but don’t run away with the idea that the next international is going to be the same as today’s or even remotely like it.”

Wales, he believes, are almost paying the penalty of their own brilliance in that everyone expects them to run it, you know they will play lots of football – and you can lay your plans to knock them out accordingly. Ireland, he appreciates, could hardly present a greater contrast. “They try very little though they can take their chances and, if you are not geared up appropriately, scrummage and spoil devastatingly.”

In other words, the new Scotland captain, even amid the heady aftermath of a great victory, was not forgetting that the recipe for any two matches is not necessarily the same. Indeed, the tactical battle at Murrayfield on Saturday was as fascinating as any I can recall – though to see the Scottish performance in its proper perspective, you have to be aware of what the Welsh took the field intending to do.

As one suspected – and Ray Williams, the Welsh coaching orgainser, duly confirmed - Wales meant to take out the stuffing of Scotland up front, before consistently giving full rein to their gifted backs. “We reckoned,” nodded Ray Williams, “that you were playimg two virtual back row forwards at lock...”

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For the kick-off, that overall strategy came badly unstuck because, quite simply, of what a magnificent primed Scottish pack were doing to the Welsh in the set pieces. Right away the Scottish scrummaging in general but Ian McLauchlan and Sandy Carmichael in particular had the Welsh hooking under such pressure that eventually Wales were opting, where possible, for lineouts instead of scrums. And though it was the Welsh pack leader, Delme Thomas, who actually accepted responsibility for the decision, the suggestion appears to have emanated from the Welsh hooker himself, Jeff Young. which tells its own story...

What’s more, even in the lineouts, a full 20 minutes had passed before Wales began to see anything much in the way of ball – something which the aforesaid Delme Thomas confessed yesterday came as a distinctly painful surprise. Of the two basic lineout formations Scotland employed, the most successful was that whereby the two locks leapt at No 3 and No 5, leaving a straight contest between Gordon Strachan and Mervyn Davies to their rear.

At just about the final team talk, Peter Brown had done much for Strachan’s morale by expressing wonderment that anyone should still be worrying about what Mervyn Davies might do to the Jordanhill No8 – remarking that he, Peter Brown, was as good a lineout tail-gunner as Mervyn Davies and generously instancing those occasions on which Gordon Strachan had given him more than enough to do. As for Strachan, he had grimly promised that if he didn’t win any great ball at the back of the lineout, neither would the considerably taller Mervyn Davies. He was as good as his word.

Complementing Scotland’s early supremacy in the set pieces was an absolutely masterly display by Colin Telfer – the Scotland stand-off, aided and abetted by Douglas Morgan and the rest of the Scottish backs, ensuring that Scotland did not make the same mistake as they had done against the All Blacks and France. Namely fail to cross the gain line. With matters going so well in front and at half-back, the Scottish offensive-defence had the ideal launching pad, constantly cracking into the enemy long before they had crossed the advantage line.

At half-time, now playing with the wind and only 10-6 down, the Welsh were convinced that they would win. Time and again, they ran the ball, bringing John Williams into the line. Always, the Scottish cover defence was equal to the occasion because the Welsh were doing their attacking from so far out and so deep behind the gain line; and because they never once missed out a centre in their passing – which is normally what gives the real speed and cutting edge to the introduction of the full-back betwixt centre and wing. As, for instance, when Gerald Davies fled around Ian Smith for the crucial try in 1971. Out on the wing, Davies noted that Andy Irvine was lying well across the field, leaving the box empty. But Phil Bennett seemed obsessed with passing even relatively bad balls, instead of turning the rampant Scottish forwards by putting the ball behind them.

The focal point of all the pressure the Scots were putting upon the Welsh was their harrassing of Gareth Edwards, largely through the predatory Douglas Morgan. Once the Scots deliberately swung the Welsh scrum; but the fact that the Welsh scrum was continually slewing sideways, crbabing, was mostly frustration – the Scots admitting that it was less of their own deliberate engineering than the angle at which Jeff Young was setting himself to strike.

Waiting for the scrum to steady, Gaerth Edwards was penalised for delaying in putting in the ball – linguistic difficulties between himself and M Palmade accentuating the Welsh frustration and confusion. Not for many a day has Gareth Edwards suffered such bad ball. With Douglas Morgan continually on top of him and any other available Scot joining in, Gareth ruefully confessed shortly after no-side that his afternoon had been “uncomfortable – very uncomfortable!”

Douglas Morgan began nervously but ended with far more pluses than minuses. Not all that long back after innjury, Colin Telfer confessed to feeling a little leg-weary with ten minutes to go – but he scarcely put a hand or foot wrong all afternoon in as neat, complete and authoritative a display as a aScottish stand-off has given for many a day.

Ian Forsyth tackled thunderously and waded across the gain line when the opportunity arose. The Welsh centres, admittedly, seldom had a real run at their opposite numbers, but Ian McGeechan’s cover defence and follow-up tackling were outstanding, even if he was never called upon to show anything much in the way of penetration. A typical example of Scottish planning was the way McGeechan looped round Telfer to pull John Williams across field, before McGeechan kicked back to the right touchline – albeit it actually brought only a very welcome territorial gain.

The Scottish defensive pattern demanded that Dave Shedden – who had seven stitches in a split heel on Saturday evening – should come in to take John Williams, leaving Gerald Davies to the cover. And nobly did Shedden perform his allotted task.

Scotland: A Irvine (Heriot’s FP), W Steele (Bedford), I McGeechan (Headingley), I Forsyth (Stewart’s FP), D Shedden (West of Scotland); C Telfer (Hawick), D Morgan (Melville College); I McLauchlan (Jordanhill), R Clark (Edinburgh Wanderers), A Carmichael (West of Scotland), A McHarg (London Scottish), P Brown (Gala), N McEwan (Gala), J Millican (Edinburgh University), G Strachan (Jordanhill).

Wales: JPR Williams (London Welsh), G Davies (London Welsh), R Bergiers (Llanelli), A Lewis (Ebbw Vale, J Bevan (Cardiff); P Bennet (Llanelli), G Edwards (Cardiff); G Shaw (Neath), Jt Young (London Welsh), J Lloyd (Bridgend), D Thomas (Llanelli), D Quinnel (Llanelli), D Morris (Neath), J Taylor (London Welsh), M Davies (Swansea).

Referee: M F Palmade (France).

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