Finn Russell masterclass as Scotland storm past Wales to make it two wins out of two in 2023 Six Nations
Never before in the 24-year history of the Six Nations had Scotland won their opening two games. Well, they have now. They followed up their thrilling away win over England last week with another bonus-point triumph, beating Wales 35-7 in what is their biggest ever victory over the Welsh. Gregor Townsend’s team now sit just behind Ireland at the top of the table, separated by the slightest of margins on points difference.
Four of Scotland’s five tries came in the second half and Russell had a hand in all of them. It was masterful stuff from the stand-off who brought out his full repertoire after the interval, creating two scores for Kyle Steyn and one apiece for Blair Kinghorn – on early for Stuart Hogg – and Matt Fagerson. Hookers George Turner and Ken Owens has swapped tries in a scrappy first half which also saw Turner yellow-carded.Scotland hadn’t beaten Wales at Murrayfield since 2017 and had never previously beaten them when Warren Gatland was in charge of the visitors, but that was another record cast to the dustbin of history. Gregor Townsend’s side were well worth their win and will now go to Paris in a fortnight full of hope.
Welsh stand-off Dan Biggar had tried to wind up the Scots on the eve of the match, challenging them to show him their medals. Well, they remain on course to win something this season, with all prizes still on offer. They did pick up one bauble yesterday, and it was a significant one, Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie lifting the Doddie Weir Cup. It was a poignant moment, the first time the trophy had been presented since the lock forward passed away last November. Weir’s widow, Kathy, handed it over to Ritchie.
Scotland began brightly. The Sione Tuipulotu-Huw Jones combination got Scotland off to a flyer at Twickenham and the centre pairing did their best to spark the home side again. Tuipulotu showed great sleight of hand to slip the ball to his partner and Jones went haring up the pitch. Unfortunately, he had no-one in support but Scotland managed to recycle and Russell sent a kick spiralling to the right wing where it was caught by Steyn who popped it back to Ritchie who was well tackled as Wales scrambled effectively. Play went back for a Scotland penalty as Wales had strayed offside and Russell knocked it over to give the home side a 3-0 lead.
The visitors looked rattled. Biggar had had plenty to say before the match and the Wales stand-off gave team-mate Rio Dyer a mouthful when the winger flung a loose pass to him inside their own 22.
Russell extended the lead to 6-0 with a second penalty after 14 minutes when Tommy Reffell was penalised for not rolling away. But that stage Scotland had lost Hogg, who went off for a head injury assessment and never returned, Kinghorn taking his place.
Unlike Scotland, Wales were putting their kickable penalties into the corner but Richie Gray pulled off a brilliant lineout steal to deny them. They then squandered another glorious chance from a five-metre scrum and Biggar followed it up by missing with a 40-metre penalty in front of the posts. It was a scrappy and error-strewn, Russell kicking the ball out on the full at one point, but as the clock ticked towards 30 minutes Scotland found some rhythm. Russell fizzed the ball wide to Kinghorn who fed Steyn but the winger was put into touch in the corner thanks to the combined efforts of Dyer and Josh Adams. Play switched back to the opposite flank, and from a lineout, Turner broke off the back of the maul and ploughed over the line. He was initially held up but managed to eventually ground the ball and the try was awarded after a video review. Russell converted to put the Scots 13-0 ahead.
And then things unravelled somewhat. Turner, adrenaline still pumping, caught North on the head with a high tackle and was sent to the sin-bin, with North going off for an HIA. Wales made the one-man advantage count, Ken Owens scoring from a lineout maul, just as Turner had. Biggar’s conversion reduced Scotland’s lead to six points and it almost got worse for the hosts just before the interval but Dyer couldn’t hold on to Biggar’s behind-the-back pass with the line beckoning.
The interval gave the Scots a chance to regroup and they were back up to their full complement when Turner rejoined the fray early in the second half. Duhan van der Merwe went on a thundering run down the left wing and Liam Wiliams did well to halt the runaway juggernaut but Scotland had regained the upper hand and Russell was ready to weave some magic. They showed patience and built the phases before the stand-off picked his moment. He twice shaped to pass, sucking in the Welsh defenders before offloading brilliantly off his right hand just as he was tackled. Steyn was the grateful recipient, scoring in the corner.
Wales were starting to creak and Liam Williams was shown a yellow card for the persistence of the Welsh transgressions. Scotland sniffed blood and immediately made their extra man count. Again, it was the Russell-Steyn combination. The fly-half picked out the winger with a cross-kick and Steyn had the freedom of Murrayfield to dot down.
The fourth try, for the bonus point, came in the 70th minute and it was a beauty. And again Russell was at the heart of it. Scotland’s forwards did the heavy lifting, winning a lineout then going through a couple of phases. Tuipulotu slipped in Russell whose delicate chip found van der Merwe who offloaded inside to Kinghorn who gathered expertly before running in the score. Murrayfield was ablaze and Scotland rounded it off with a fifth try as Russell (who else?) looped a pass out to Matt Fagerson, who was lurking on the left wing and flopped over the line.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Turner, Steyn 2, Kinghorn, M Fagerson. Cons: Russell 2. Pens: Russell 2.
Wales: Try: Owens. Con: Biggar.
Yellow cards: Scotland: Turner (33). Wales: L Williams (56), Rhys Webb (82).
Scotland: S Hogg (B Kinghorn 13); K Steyn, H Jones, S Tuipulotu (C Harris 71), D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White (G Horne 59); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 64), G Turner (F Brown 59), Z Fagerson (WP Nel 64), R Gray, G Gilchrist (J Gray 64), J Ritchie (capt), L Crosbie (F Brown 37-42; J Dempsey 44), M Fagerson.
Wales: L Williams; J Adams (A Cuthbert 58), G North (A Cuthbert 33-40), J Hawkins, R Dyer; D Biggar (R Patchell 56), T Williams (R Webb 56); W Jones (R Carre 52), K Owens (S Baldwin 64), D Lewis (L Brown 64), D Jenkins (R Davies 65), A Beard, C Tshiunza, T Reffell, J Morgan (T Faletau 52).
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU).