THE Bible talks about the end of days when the heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Just another Saturday night in Cardiff, you are thinking. What the Good Book fails to mention at the end of time itself is that Scotland might finally catch a break from referee George Clancy.
The Irishman has previous to be taken into consideration. He was in charge four years ago at the exact same ground when he handed out two yellow cards to Scotland in the final ten minutes and the Irishman did the same last year at Murrayfield, albeit with more justification, carding two Scots in the finale against Italy.
Yesterday he awarded Gareth Davies’ early try for Wales despite television replays showing Jamie Roberts clearly edging ahead of Dan Biggar when the fly-half makes the kick, with a question mark hanging over the positioning of try scorer Gareth Davies.
“I don’t usually enter into those sort of things,” said Scotland coach Vern Cotter when asked about yet another slap in the face from the man in the middle before jumping right into the deep end.
“I thought, and I could well be wrong, that he was offside but that is part of the game I suppose. Everybody makes mistakes.”
He wasn’t the only one who felt the victim of another miscarriage of justice because skipper Greig Laidlaw echoed his coach’s sentiments when the same question was put to him.
“It’s like Vern said, people make mistakes,” said the scrum-half. “I certainly thought he was offside as well, the scrum-half, from the kick, and I think it was Roberts that tapped it back. You certainly saw that from our body language on the field. We thought we were going to pick up a penalty but unfortunately not. We’re never going to get that back, are we?”
For all the disappointment of the result the Scots were much improved across the field, although how much Wales’ six-day turnaround hurt them we can only guess. The men in blue righted many of last weekend’s wrongs, preventing Wales from making a single turnover at the breakdown, which is good going given that the hosts fielded two Lions opensides.
The Scots defused the bombs that came out of the sky and they looked dangerous when they ran through the phases, finishing with two tries.
Where Cotter’s side fell flat on their faces was the set-piece battle where they finished a distant second. The set scrum did manage one second-half penalty that Laidlaw kicked to give his side a slender lead but otherwise the Welsh bossed this area, winning a penalty at the very first engagement, with the Scottish scrum pretty much disintegrating by the end of the match.
And still the scrum was rock solid in comparison with the lineout, which arguably cost Scotland this game.
The official stats said that the visitors lost three but they don’t include turnovers immediately after the event which doubled that tally. Most importantly the Scots knocked on at a lineout five metres from their own line and, unable to exit, the Welsh siege wasn’t lifted until man of the match Jamie Roberts had scored the decisive try.
“It was tough,” replied Cotter when quizzed about the lineout malfunction. “They had a couple of good jumpers there who caught us. I thought that we adapted and we had a couple of outs but they put us under pressure there.
“We know that they had a good defensive lineout and we didn’t get possession that we wanted. I thought that although we didn’t have a lineout that was performing as well as we’d like, and we set high standards there, I thought that we picked the ball up on the ground and I thought we had a better attitude in our defence.”
Scotland now have two weeks to lick their wounds ahead of facing Italy in Rome, in the full knowledge that the the Azzurri will be licking their lips.