Duncan Smith: Wales waltz as Scotland trip up again

Up and away: Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw lifts the pressure as he clears the ball. Picture: Getty Images
Up and away: Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw lifts the pressure as he clears the ball. Picture: Getty Images
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On any given weekend, but particularly a Six Nations Saturday, central Cardiff is essentially a giant nightclub, with the patch of green under the roof of the now Principality Stadium its most exclusive dancefloor.

Roads are closed off to traffic in the heart of the Welsh capital to accommodate the much more important business of making merry but, for 80 minutes, the main business at the focal point of everything is the sober, on the pitch at least, and serious business of a rugby Test match.

That said, one of the key battles of yesterday’s Wales-Scotland clash still brought an early taste of Saturday Night Fever to proceedings with the Zoolander-style ‘dance-off’ between opposing No.10s, Dan Biggar and Finn Russell – Red Ferrari versus Blue Steel.

The pair are viewed as two of the bright young things in the European game with a bit of swagger about the way they go about things.

The ‘Biggarena’ has become legendary as the Welsh stand-off goes through his bizarre yet strangely compelling pre-kick OCD rituals of ticks and flicks like a budding young Romeo in front of the mirror before a night on the tiles.

Russell is not averse to a bit of fancy footwork himself and his boogie battle with the local hero lived up to its billing for large parts of the game.

Biggar is 26 and was winning his 41st cap after a recovery from a sprained ankle in Dublin last weekend that was described as “miraculous”, while Russell is three years younger and earning his 17th in search of a first-ever Six Nations win, so there was no doubting the pecking order going into the game.

The Swansea man was arguably the best northern hemisphere performer in last year’s World Cup and generally regarded as the current front-runner for the Lions No.10 jersey.

Both young men have shown themselves to be headstrong. Biggar sauntered into his head coach’s office as a teenager and told him that he had been approached by a top London club but he was going to stay as he intended to be Ospreys and Wales stand-off in a few years. Russell on the other hand left his hometown club Stirling County for lower-league Falkirk in order to get first-team action.

So soon after we lost Alastair Biggar – the former Scotland and Lions wing and cousin of Mike – who died last Saturday, the Welshman’s surname, courtesy of a great-great grandfather, epitomised the family aspect of this Celtic clash which so often has provided the tournament with its most open and entertaining contests. That was certainly the case last night in a breathless first half which Biggar started strongly before Russell became more and more of an influence.

Indeed, by the time the Scotland stand-off had even got his hands on the ball, his opposite number had already engineered a superb kick-off, created a try and converted it to put the home side 7-0 up.

Caroline Street, aka Chippy Alley, is a strip of fast food joints just off St Mary Street which magnetically manages to be the final destination for many a night out in the Welsh capital, and both Biggar and Russell had the salt and vinegar out early as their deft boots defined the opening period.

If Biggar’s chip to create the first try by Gareth Davies had a whiff of offside about it, there was no such doubt about the magnificent dink which allowed Tommy Seymour to help even the score.

After dancing around each other for the opening tunes, the two clashed for the first time as Biggar managed to get a fine clearing kick away under pressure from a thumping hit from Russell on the line. A few words exchanged afterwards. The heat was rising.

Russell is the kind of player, a bit like his mentor Gregor Townsend, who will always throw in the occasional mis-step amidst the genius but, as the game wore on, he was keeping pace with his opposite number.

Unlike his direct opponent Russell doesn’t have the goalkicking responsibility at Test match level, with skipper Greig Laidlaw booting the Scots into a half-time lead.

The half-back pairing looked slicker than last weekend’s Calcutta Cup disappointment but Wales were slowly taking a grip on the game as the second half unfolded.

Ultimately, we were heading towards oblivion to the sound of a beat more repetitive than an acid house party as once again Scotland fell short.

Russell was withdrawn from the action just after centre colossus Jamie Roberts’ crucial try, leaving the floor clear for Biggar, who in turn was roared off by the home crowd five minutes later after George North had put the seal on Wales’ ninth straight victory over Scotland.

As the lights dimmed and the last dance played out, Duncan Taylor provided a late shimmy of defiance but it was the supporters in red yet again who departed the stadium heading for the after-party with a spring in their step.