Scotland’s set piece malfunctions prove costly in Wales

Welsh winger George North runs in his side's third and decisive try at the Principality Stadium on Saturday. Picture: AP

Welsh winger George North runs in his side's third and decisive try at the Principality Stadium on Saturday. Picture: AP

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In the run-up to this match Vern Cotter claimed that his goal was to improve on Scotland’s last effort in Cardiff but, given that the result that day was a 51-3 shellacking, he wasn’t setting the bar particularly high.

In the event, the Scots did much better than many assumed.

It is something that will be looked at and focused on. We set our standards high and we would like to improve on that

Vern Cotter on set piece

They were leading at half-time and they were leading with 16 minutes left on the clock but they can’t quite shake some old frailties and two lapses of concentration allowed Wales to score two tries in the space of six minutes to take this one out of reach.

The Scots plugged some of the chinks in their armour exposed by England on the opening weekend. Tommy Seymour and Sean Lamont dealt with the high balls so well that Dan Biggar abandoned the tactic altogether in the second half. The Scots carried with real intent and were clinical and aggressive at the breakdown, denying Wales any turnover ball at that crucial area.

Sadly, where the Scots fell down was the set piece. They lost the kick-off that started the match.

They lost several scrums on their own feed, although the front row did earn one penalty and three points in the second half, and they lost a slew of lineouts, one of which, when Greig Laidlaw spilled the feed from Richie Gray, ended in Jamie Roberts crashing over the Scottish line for a crucial try on 64 minutes. Was the setpiece a concern, Vern Cotter was asked?

“It was a Test match played against good opposition,” replied the Kiwi coach. “We are not happy with that. We will look at trying to improve those areas.

“You prepare for something and then you have to adapt your way through, and I think the players did that reasonably well.

“It is something that will be looked at and focused on. From game to game, there are always areas you wish to improve. We set our standards high and we would like to improve on that.”

When asked what aspect of the game Scotland would be concentrating upon for this week and next, ahead of the all-important Italy match, Cotter pointed to the obvious.

“I think we will probably focus on set phase. We will have a good look and see who is available and forwards and backs will probably spend some time working separately to see how we can improve and develop our game.

“We will work two effective days, the players will then be able to have a bit of a rest and we will come back together again on Sunday.”

Of course, it would not class as an international fixture if it did not come with a controversial refereeing incident and there were plenty who felt that George Clancy should have wiped Gareth Davies’ early try off for offside.

The Scots bounced back well with their best period of the game, with 21 phases of play resulting in Tommy Seymour latching on to Finn Russell’s clever kick to keep the Scots in contention.

The visitors should have had a second try when John Barclay broke from deep in the first half and, ignoring Stuart Hogg, just as Russell had done against England, the flanker instead grubbered the ball wastefully into touch which must have heralded a collective groan from the Scottish coaches.

“It was a tough one for John,” said his skipper Laidlaw. “He did well to make the break. When he looked, Hoggy and Mark Bennett were there and then Hoggy ran a great line. I think John lost sight of Hoggy.

“Sometimes, when forwards get out in the loose, they get a bit excited. Unfortunately for John, he put his boot to the ball. If he had chosen another option we would probably have got a score but I’m not going to criticise him for it because it was a split-second decision.”

Instead, the next two all-important scores came from Wales. Roberts picked a beautiful out-to-in angle and hit the line at such pace that two Scottish tacklers couldn’t stop him.

If there was an inevitability about that score, George North’s 70th-minute try was a soft one by any standards. He too picked a good angle coming back against the grain but Laidlaw and John Hardie were both guilty of over-chasing and, once North had brushed past that pair, he was always going to be difficult to stop.

When Duncan Taylor scored his try in the 79th minute there was still time for the Welsh to restart the game but a lack of concentration – a poor pass was spilled – ended any slim hopes Scotland had of snatching victory at the death.

Scorers: Wales: Try: Davies, Roberts, North Conv: Biggar 3 Pen: Biggar 2. 
Scotland: Try: Seymour, Taylor Conv: Laidlaw, Weir Pen: Laidlaw 3.

Wales: Williams; North, Davies, Roberts, James; Biggar, G Davies; Evans(Jenkins 47), Baldwin(Owens 47), Lee(Francis 68), Charteris(B Davies 47), Jones, Warburton (Capt), Tipuric (Lydiate 62), Faletau.

Scotland: Hogg (Jackson 28); Lamont, Bennett, Taylor, Seymour; Russell (Weir 67), Laidlaw (Hidalgo-Clyne 77); Dickinson (Reid 67) Ford (McInally 67) Nel, R Gray, J Gray (Swinson 70), Barclay (Cowan 67) (Barclay 75), Hardie, Denton.

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