Way back in 1994 I played for Scotland against Wales in Cardiff, broke my leg in the middle of the match and still had more fun than I did yesterday afternoon.
As one journalist noted in the post-match autopsy, the Scots’ game plan of “organised chaos” disintegrated into its close cousin “chaos” for much of this match.
It has been said before but we can all live with the disappointment of losing, Scottish rugby fans are lifelong mates with that emotion, it’s the hope that is difficult to deal with. The fans came to Cardiff hopeful and they expected a highly competitive match only to see the Scots lucky to finish second in a two-horse race.
One man, at least, insisted that he had anticipated the one-sided nature of yesterday’s contest.
“It was an afternoon I was expecting,” claimed Wales’ coach Warren Gatland, pictured inset. “With the way we have trained in the last couple of weeks there was definitely a quiet confidence in the squad. The guys have been outstanding in their preparation and we did go into the game expecting to win and to win reasonably comfortably.
“I said that to the chief executive yesterday. He said ‘how do you think you’ll go?’ and I said ‘I think we’ll win by 20’, and he looked a bit shocked but that was how well we’d trained. Fairness to the guys; they’ve been excellent in the last two weeks.”
Naturally enough Gregor Townsend had made much the same claim about the Scots’ training ahead of this match but his side’s performance and their decision making on the day were woeful.
Almost worse than the poor performance was the senior players’ inability to make any changes on the hoof or, more worryingly, the coaches’ inability to do so at half-time. The way the Scots started the second half only nailed down this Welsh win, with Leigh Halfpenny’s twin penalties putting the result beyond doubt.
“It is annoying, especially when they have a kicker of Leigh’s ability,” said hooker Stuart McInally, who had carried hard for the visitors. “You know if you give away a penalty in your own half he will put it over. Suddenly we were 20 points to nil down and that was further than 14-0.
“It is about trying to look after the ball, which we could not seem to do. We could not string more than a few phases together. I thought their defence was excellent and they played much better than us throughout.”
And that pithy comment pretty much sums up the day. Wales played better than Scotland. The set scrum turned out irrelevant, the Scots lost three lineouts although that didn’t determine the result, Wales were just better across the board, in almost every department, and they grew in confidence as the game progressed, leaving Townsend looking shell shocked.
“I think the first 15 minutes was a bizarre sort of Test match, it was so open,” said the Scotland coach. “We made some breaks, we went wide, we turned over the ball, they made some breaks and turned over the ball and it wasn’t really what you’d describe as a Six Nations game. In that period we obviously needed to be more accurate to make more of the possession we had in the opposition 22 but the try Wales got sapped our confidence, or that’s what it looked like, and gave them momentum to go back and score another try.
“We weren’t accurate right across the board, whether that was in the decisions to go wide at times, or just getting numbers to breakdown, making the right passing decisions and a couple of times we lost set-piece ball which allowed Wales more possession.
“The championship is always a highly contested affair,” he concluded. “We were badly beaten today, it was a defeat, but there weren’t many away victories last year and we just have to make sure that we play much better next week. We’ve got a really big week ahead of us.”