SCOTLAND ended their Six Nations campaign as they started it, with a dispiriting and lop-sided loss on foreign soil. The Scots have suffered some miserable defeats in recent years but this one ranks right down there with the very worst of them.
Scorers: Wales: Tries: L Williams, North (2), Roberts (2), Faletau, R Williams. Cons: Biggar (4), Hook. Pens: Biggar (2). Scotland: Pen: Laidlaw.
Wales’ tally of 51 points equalled the record score ever posted against Scotland in this tournament.
There wasn’t one aspect of play where the visitors could claim the upper hand, unless you count cynical thuggery, for which Stuart Hogg received a yellow card on 22 minutes… quickly upgraded to red on a second look at the slow-motion evidence on the big screen by French referee Jerome Garces.
Hogg joins Nathan Hines and Scott Murray, the latter on this very ground, as the only Scots to have been shown a red card at Test level. Hogg’s team mates will not thank him for landing them in the sticky stuff yesterday, although the numerical disadvantage at least offered a fig-leaf with which to cover the embarrassing gulf in class between these two teams.
Wales took full advantage of the extra man to move away from their current obsession with kicking and instead they cracked open a display of all-singing, all-dancing total running rugby. It proved devastating to a demoralised and short-handed Scotland team who appeared to have had the stuffing well and truly knocked out of them. The Welsh have had harder sessions and those jibes after the England match about Scotland’s place in this tournament are sure to be taken off the shelf and given another airing.
One of Dan Biggar’s four conversions went in off the upright. In stark contrast, Laidlaw managed just one penalty kick from three attempts in the first half and gave up kicking at goal thereafter. Scott Lawson’s radar let him down at the sidelines with at least two throws going awry, one of which led directly to a Welsh try. Ford overthrew his first lineout and the Welsh went the length of the field to score the best try of the match. Tackles were missed, passes were dropped, turnovers were handed out like it was Christmas. David Denton claimed a rare attacking lineout with one long athletic arm, he brought the ball down and popped it to Strokosch who wasn’t expecting the pass and spilt it. If it could go wrong for Scotland, it did.
Meanwhile, Dougie Fife will have enjoyed dental surgery more than this Test debut. The winger endured an afternoon he won’t forget in a hurry for all the wrong reasons, as Welshmen sped past on the outside, on the inside and, just occasionally, right over the top of the Scotland winger. His opposite number George North helped himself to a brace.
Scotland were three points to the good after as many minutes but they didn’t have long to savour the
advantage. Wales’ first attacking opportunity was rewarded with three points from the boot of Dan Biggar after Kelly Brown was penalised in the shadow of his own posts. To add injury to insult the Scotland skipper had to be helped from the field with a head knock, replaced by Alasdair Strokosch, who might have stayed where he was had he known what was coming.
Worse was to come. Wales’ second attacking opportunity resulted in a try for Liam Williams after several waves of attacks and the speedy full-back was left unmarked on the left flank. Even worse was to come. Biggar, who had converted brilliantly from the touchline, put up a high kick that Duncan Weir failed to block. The ball was well gone when Hogg appeared to blindside Biggar, off his feet, high and late, catching the Welshman’s chin with his shoulder in what the defence could claim was a clumsy challenge but the prosecution would insist was deliberate, cynical and premeditated.
The referee showed the Scotland full-back a yellow card before taking a second look at the replay on the big screen and chasing after Hogg to flash red at him. The Scot didn’t argue and nor did anyone else in a dark blue shirt. The clock showed 22 minutes, Scotland had three-quarters of this match to play and just 14 men. The outcome was a foregone conclusion, the only question was the level of hurt coming.
Plenty, was the answer, as Wales scored seven tries in all, four in the first half, three after the break, the best of which was a length of the field score that started when Sam Warburton poached a Ross Ford miss-throw ten metres from the Welsh line. Liam Williams made the initial break and the ball went through Jon Davies and Taulupe Faletau before Jamie Roberts dived dramatically over the Scots’ line 70 metres later. Faletau scored another corker of a try on 52 minutes.
The Scottish defence stiffened their sinews or the Welsh just ran out of puff – whatever the reason, the scoreboard stopped spinning like a Buddhist prayer wheel as, with the match long gone, the Scots finally enjoyed some territorial advantage, but all to no avail. Replacement scrum-half Rhodri Williams claimed Wales’ seventh score with five minutes left to play after winning the foot race to James Hook’s kick ahead, while the Scots fans were already headed for the Cardiff pubs to drink this memory out of their minds.