Aidan Smith: Scotland’s home security needs an upgrade

Everyone had thoughts of home at Murrayfield yesterday. Warren Gatland was contemplating the carriage clock which will sit on his mantlepiece back at the ranch and whether the retirement gift from Wales will be engraved with three Grand Slams or just the two.

Scotland's Darcy Graham celebrates his try. Picture: SNS

Scotland, though, wanted to send the celebrated coach homewards to think again about those snubs he delivered to boys in dark blue when he was selecting his Lions squads.

Meanwhile, the Welsh players were trying to push from their minds the convulsions of the domestic game back in the Principality, with the captain among those wondering if his club were going out of business. The Scots, of course, were hoping the red shirts would be seriously distracted by the chaos.

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Then at half-back for Scotland there was the renewal of the Finn Russell-Ali Price partnership, a double-act formed in Glasgow where they were flatmates, with Murrayfield hoping that the ball would effortlessly pass from one to the other like it was a TV controller or a pair of marigolds.

But would Scotland miss Greig Laidlaw who Price had deposed? We’d got used to the scrum-half being around, a familiar, comforting presence like the sturdy dresser in the hallway. Solid and dependable, he’d been the man, with Scotland narrowly ahead in tight games, to place a reassuring hand on a groaning scrum and see the team – that word again – home.

But it didn’t take Wales long to show their minds were on the job, with winger Josh Adams going round Blair Kinghorn as if he was an actual hallway dresser to touch down in the corner. Unfortunately injury was added to insult for the lanky full-back who was forced to hobble off. This casualty list is now officially comical. Scotland, with Tommy Seymour quitting too, were no longer thinking of home but hospital. There’s a terrific XV in the treatment-room, if only we could get them back on to the park. If not, then let’s seek dispensation to play the games in the treatment-room.

Injuries – those from the previous game rather than the new ones being racked up – had let in Darcy Graham, a perky little fellow on the wing with a bit of the gallus footballer about him. The first thing he did was good, reading Russell’s endlessly inventive mind. The second was better, collecting a high ball when others had fumbled under the bright sun. The third was very nearly sensational, slithering like an electric eel and almost scoring under the posts.

Price was busy and lightning-quick with the ball when he got hold of it. The problem was getting hold of it. Wales bagged another try through Jonathan Davies and, for an awful moment – actually lasting the rest of the first half – we wondered how many more might follow.

The faithful were hoping Graham might get another chance to show his elusiveness but the flurry of injuries and the arrival of Byron McGuigan had forced him to change flanks, left to right, and he stopped seeing the ball. Scotland now had a Byron and a Darcy on the park, increasing their literary allusions, but this wasn’t doing anything for the scoreboard.

Wales had the necessary intensity; Scotland didn’t. Gatland didn’t seem to be heading homewards to reflect on anything other than 11 wins out of 11 against the Scots, the Kiwi being careful to point out that the dark blue victory of 2017 had been on Rob Howley’s watch while he was on sabbatical with the Lions.

But what a transformation. Scotland in the second half lived up to the pre-match declaration of captain Stuart McInally. “We’re at home,” he said, “and we don’t go down at home without a fight.” They took the game to ther slam-seekers as Russell, who tries at all times to avoid throwing a routine pass, searched for the right one to ignite the fightback.

Prop Allan Dell, from far back, attempted his best Stuart Hogg impression in the flying machine’s absence. Even more thrilling were the thundering rampages of Hamish Watson as he bagatelled assorted Welshmen.

The men in red couldn’t get out of their half, and most of the time the 22. Then came the breakthrough: a lovely passing move involving McGuigan and Adam Hastings who flipped up the ball for Graham to dive over in the corner. Typical of his team’s luck in this campaign, the next thing Graham did was hirple down the tunnel. But Scotland could not feel too sorry for themselves. They hadn’t capitalised on their chances, against Ireland and yesterday, when they really needed to be seized, Wales possessed the best defence in the world.

Gatland’s men had been wary of coming to what they respectfully called “Fortress Murrayfield”. Scotland had hoped to give the Welsh the traditional Edinburgh welcome on the doorstep (no tea offered). But Scotland’s home now needs a security upgrade.