Scotland made light of numerous injured players and recent history to claim their first victory over Wales in a decade, and they did it the hard way, bouncing back after trailing 10-3 at the end of the first quarter. The home team grew arms and legs throughout the second half and ended up dominating the only thing that matters, the scoreboard.
The turning point in this bizarre game came on exactly 37 minutes, which was when Welsh full-back Leigh Halfpenny missed a simple enough penalty that would have given Wales a ten-point lead at the break. Instead, man of the match Finn Russell kicked his third penalty of the match to reduce the arrears to just four points before the break and then Tommy Seymour’s try, early in the second half, gave Scotland a lead that they never relinquished.
The set scrum was again a mess but the workaholic backrow, with Hamish Watson on early for John Hardie, combined with brothers Jonny and Richie Gray to paper over the cracks pretty convincingly.
Finn Russell pulled the strings like a virtuoso at stand-off and was perfect off the tee, contributing 19 points with five penalties and two conversions, but it was Tim Visser who personified the Scottish effort on the day, a little ordinary in the opening half, sublime thereafter.
The big winger couldn’t catch a cold in the opening 40 but after the break he popped up on the ‘wrong’ wing to send Seymour over for Scotland’s first try, grabbed the second himself after an assist from full-back Stuart Hogg and he bundled Rhys Webb into touch to prevent a surefire Welsh score. Incidentally scrum-half Ali Price, pictured below, performed similar heroics on a flying Jon Davies with the game still in the balance.
Wales dominated the first half and bossed possession, territory and pretty much everyone in a blue shirt but this Scottish squad are cussed and they dug in to wait out the storm. Wales somehow finished the first half with no more than a four-point lead to show for all their efforts and even that was questionable, turning on a decision by referee John Lacey, who awarded the visitors a scrum which should probably have gone to Scotland given that Visser had been held up after catching a Welsh bomb.
The Welsh won a free kick at that very scrum and the quick-witted Webb tapped and ran, drawing Russell on to him, before quick hands allowed Liam Williams a free run to the corner.
You could also argue that Webb was lucky to be on the field. A little earlier Williams had enjoyed a good gallop up the left-hand touchline but only after Webb tugged Tommy Seymour back by the shirt; Lacey the only person in Murrayfield to have missed Webb’s cheat that was visible from space.
If Scotland had little luck with Lacey, they were thrown a lifeline late in the first half when Halfpenny missed that penalty. The Scottish backs, who had done little except tackle all afternoon, suddenly remembered what they were about and burst into life when Alex Dunbar took a quick lineout deep inside their own half.
Russell fed Hogg who went on a long, mazy diagonal run before dropping the ball on to his foot for a delicate little grubber which sat up nicely for Seymour. The winger found Huw Jones on his inside and the Murrayfield faithful were already doing the maths when George North appeared from another dimension. Jones had to cut inside, which he managed before losing his footing within sight of the Welsh line.
They didn’t cross the line but Russell was able to narrow the half-time gap to just four points when Ross Moriarty failed to roll at a ruck and the belief seeped back into the Scots, both on and off the field.
The near-miss seemed to rouse the Scottish backs from their slumbers and they had their first try within three minutes of the restart. The forwards got them on the front foot before the backs combined beautifully to send Seymour over in the corner, Visser making the extra man. Russell added the extras from the touchline and fired over his fourth penalty, following a neat break by Price, to give the Scots a 19-13 lead which they took into the final quarter.
That advantage was extended even further when Visser sneaked over in the corner after a patient, slow-motion build-up from the forwards. Russell fired a bullet across the backline and Stuart Hogg’s instantaneous take-and-give brought Visser half a yard of space on the left flank, which was all he needed.
Russell kicked the touchline conversion and added a late penalty, his fifth of the match, to give Scotland a healthy win and a huge boost in confidence before they travel to Twickenham in two weeks’ time.