Sam Warburton has conceded that Wales’ RBS Six Nations title hopes are effectively over following their crushing 29-13 defeat against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Scotland’s first win in the fixture since 2007 – and their biggest victory over Wales for 24 years – means Warburton and company could now even struggle to claim a top-three finish.
Ireland are next up in Cardiff on 10 March, followed by a trip to France eight days later, meaning that Wales must regroup rapidly. They have been third or higher in every Six Nations tournament since 2011.
Scotland, though, have sights on a possible Triple Crown when they tackle title favourites England next month after scoring 20 unanswered second-half points to emphatically end a run of nine successive defeats against Wales.
“You can’t win a championship losing two games, so we know that has gone,” Wales flanker Warburton said. “For the rest of the campaign we are playing for pride.
“There are so many Welsh fans that come to Scotland. We appreciate that they spend a lot of time and money coming to watch us play, so to put in a good performance for them in two weeks’ time at home is what they deserve from us.
“We need to have a good, honest debrief of the game. We need to do that to learn, and we need to be harsh on each other. A good breakdown of that game is what is needed, and all we can do is try and improve.”
Wales were rarely troubled during the first half, but things began to unfold early in the second period and Scotland romped home through tries by wings Tommy Seymour and Tim Visser, plus 19 points from stand-off Finn Russell.
It left Wales searching for answers. In their last two Six Nations Tests against England and Scotland, they scored just three second-half points.
“We let them off the hook,” Warburton added. “We have to be more ruthless.
“At half time, we felt really good. The contact area in attack was good for us, but in the second half we let that slip away from us.
“All the things that we had gone on about all week – being close to our ball-carriers – we went away from and Scotland managed to sniff a couple of vital penalty turnovers.
“The right messages were there at half time, but we just didn’t execute and you have to give a lot of credit to Scotland.
“To play a side who they hadn’t beaten for quite a while, they showed a hell of a lot of character and kept playing and pressing in that second half when they were definitely the better team. They deserved the win.”
Changes appear inevitable for the Friday night Ireland game – Taulupe Faletau, Luke Charteris, Samson Lee and Sam Davies are among those pressing for starting places – but whatever team interim head coach Rob Howley selects, a considerable collective improvement is required.
Howley said: “We have got huge respect for the Six Nations and players want to perform to the best they can. They have got another opportunity in two weeks.
“We will have to dissect the game, particularly the second half. The inaccuracy in terms of the execution of skill is something we obviously need to continue to work on.
“The players are hugely disappointed. We have to make sure we get ready for two weeks’ time.”