Russell’s magic boots deny Wales ten in a row

Finn Russell kicked in the absence of the injured Greig Laidlaw and was immaculate from the tee. Picture: Neil Hanna

Finn Russell kicked in the absence of the injured Greig Laidlaw and was immaculate from the tee. Picture: Neil Hanna

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Back in the 1970s the men would tell their womenfolk: “That’s me off up to Edinburgh for the rugby, luv,” and surprised wives would wonder if they were going by foot because it was only Monday – but not even the great, marauding Welsh invasion forces of that era had been able to stretch an unbeaten run into double figures.

Here, though, were the Principality’s present generation – with maybe a few survivors from the days of glam rock, wild hair and turmoil at the coalface – standing on the brink of the power of ten.

Ten in a row. For the first time in the history of this gripping fixture, was it about to happen? Not if new captain John Barclay could help it. Not if Finn Russell’s flashing hands and – on this afternoon – flashing right kicking boot could help it. And Tim Visser would have a huge say in the outcome, too.

Scotland at the start of the championship had targeted the visit of the Welsh as one of the minimum two victories they hoped to achieve. But since then the Scots’ pulverising afternoon in Paris needed acknowledgement – as did Wales getting back to something like their old growly selves against England.

Both could have won their tough second-round games, but this was more true of Wales who seemed certain to turn on the power up front, increasing the pressure on the dark-blue pack. Oh for an Ian McLauchlan, veteran Scots might have muttered quietly. Oh for a Sandy Carmichael.

The Scots had added oomph to the beleaguered front row in the shape of 18st 12lbs Gordon Reid but the Welsh forwards were still causing the scales to groan at about half a stone heavier per man. Whatever they feed their he-men obviously does the trick and it can’t all be down to the leek pies.

In a tight, bitty and often sluggish first half Scotland were first on the board through a penalty from Russell, replacing the injured Greig Laidlaw as kicker. A feverish chatter went round the stands. Would the ball topple flat like against the French and would he thump it anyway?

It stayed upright, but Leigh Halfpenny soon levelled with the kind of imperious thwack which probably made the home support hope the game wouldn’t be decided by kicks because, while Welsh rebuilding is frequently discussed, this trusty weapon looked to be in full working order.

The vintage, valleys-emptying Wales of the 1970s got to five including the unforgettable 19-18 Murrayfield epic of ’71 when John Taylor, looking like a red-bearded, red-brick professor from the land of the red dragons, stroked over the winning kick – but two years later Andy Irvine’s Scots stopped Wales in their tracks. The next time the Welsh came calling, in even more sensational numbers to swell the crowd to 104,000, Scotland won again. Wales would go on to whip us in the next five encounters but Scotland showed they could be halted and the Gray brothers, Richie and Jonny, did their darnedest to make headway in this one.

But – and this caused the crowd to gasp – the blond giants found themselves not only stopped but lifted up and pushed back.

Ross Moriarty seemed to be gaining Wales a foothold and Rhys Webb at scrum-half wasn’t allowing Ali Price to show off too many of his zippy breaks without responding with some of his own. Wales’ first try began with him. The best pass was a beaut from Scott Williams to Halfpenny and Liam Williams did the rest.`

Wales were holding Scotland at bay and their seasoned men were holding back time. Scotland, the coming team, couldn’t quite arrive. But then Halfpenny fluffed one and the Scots took heart.

Bang on half-time Russell, for whom no two passes were the same, flung out to Stuart Hogg. The full-back chipped for Tommy Seymour who fed the Scot with the Welsh name, Huw Jones, but he was blocked.

Then, right after the restart, this pivotal game in the championship produced what looked like a pivotal moment. Richie Gray surged again and this time he wasn’t sent into reverse. The Russell-Hogg combo charged out right again, and Tim Visser teed up Seymour who wouldn’t be denied his try.

From far out on the wrong side Russell biffed the conversion. The kick went over via an upright and he probably meant it. He would joke afterwards, not missing a kick for goal all day, that he’d been wearing Laidlaw’s boots. Pretty buccaneering up until that point, Russell really started swinging with boot and hand. Seymour leapt high for one up’n’under and an even more ridiculous one was fetched down by Visser.

Another Scotland penalty shot over. Whoever’s boots they were, the Scots seemed to be up for a kicking duel, but there was no need for one, thanks in a large part to a quite dazzling 15-minute interlude from Visser.

First he took a rare slow ball from a standing position and made something of it. For Scotland passes used to flutter like this all the time as Wales racked up their nine-in-a-row. Not any more.

Then Visser threw himself at Webb to save a try before rounding off the move of the match. Russell started it as usual, Hogg burst into the line to dink it into the winger’s hands and he plunged over.

So no magic ten for Wales. Scotland might have been inspired by ’73 and ’75 but this team are telling their own story.

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