Scotland may have lost their ninth Six Nations game in succession but they did at least rediscover their pride to push Wales all the way in what was by far and away the most open and entertaining game of the Championship so far.
The match was error ridden with charge downs, missed tackles and missed touches, but the action was hugely exciting with three tries in a dramatic final ten minutes.
Both teams scored early tries but the visitors took the lead from Greig Laidlaw’s penalty on the half hour immediately after Stuart Hogg hobbled from the field to be replaced by Ruaridh Jackson. The two kickers exchanged penalties which left the Scots nursing a 16-13 advantage late in the final quarter when tries from Jamie Roberts and George North put this one to bed for the home side, Duncan Taylor’s 79th minute try coming too late to alter the outcome.
The difference between last weekend was night and day, even if the final result was all too familiar, and the Scots will be wondering what they might have achieved had they produced this performance against England.
Laidlaw was a constant threat, sniping around the breakdown, beating the Welsh defence at will. Tommy Seymour owned the high balls and dealt with them quite brilliantly, both in attack and defence. While John Hardie got after Dan Biggar and ensured that the Welsh fly-half spent much of the match with one eye on the ball and one eye on the Scottish openside.
The set piece was a mixed bag, although Wales won the battle at the sidelines, claiming at least five of Scotland’s throws, one of which in the second half would prove costly.
In the wider channels the Scottish quick men looked a threat every time they touched the ball, especially Hogg (before he departed), Seymour and Mark Bennett. Taylor made a try-saving tackle in the second half on Tom James that the Scot will take to his grave and he added that late try in an excellent afternoon’s work.
The Scots got off to the worst possible start, losing the Welsh kick off, penalised in the first scrum and then conceding a try after less than seven minutes. Biggar dinked a chip kick behind the Scotland defence, Jamie Roberts rose above Taylor, palmed the ball back and it fell sweetly for scrum-half Gareth Davies who had the pace to get to the Scots line. There were questions asked about offside, both of Roberts and Davies, but the TMO gave his blessing and the try stood.
The Scots response to this serious set back was impressive and immediate. They worked their way into the Welsh red zone, with David Denton and the Gray brothers all making good yards with the ball in hand. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and on the 21st phase Finn Russell’s cross field chip kick behind the Welsh tryline sat up for Seymour to score.
The Scots should probably have had another when Seymour collected a high kick. The bouncing ball fell to John Barclay and the field opened up for the flanker. He set off with two men in support outside him on the right flank but seeing that route was well defended Hogg switched to an inside line but not before Barclay put boot to ball which went harmlessly out of play.
The twin kickers swapped penalties before Laidlaw nosed Scotland ahead on the stroke of half time only for Biggar to bring Wales level shortly after the restart.
The first half was incident packed but things moved up a gear after the break when the pace of the game was helter skelter. There was a little too much aimless kicking but Laidlaw again edged Scotland ahead on 54 minutes when the forwards squeezed a penalty out of the Welsh set scrum.
Then Scotland’s problems at the sdielines bit them hard on the backside. Richie Gray failed to find Laidlaw at a five metre lineout and, after several Welsh scrums had been repelled, Roberts barrelled his way over the Scottish line from short range. Just four minutes later North followed him over, the big winger cutting back against the grain and brushing past numerous would-be tacklers on his way to the Scottish line.
There was still time for Taylor to grab a consolation score for the Scots from 20 metres out which taken with utter nonchalance as he ignored the support outside him and cooly stepped inside the final defender.
Scotland’s afternoon turned to ashes inside the space of just four minutes. It was cruel finale for the visitors but no one claims that elite sport has a heart.
Wales: Tries: Davies, Roberts, North. Cons: Biggar 3. Pen: Biggar 2.
Scotland: Tries: Seymour, Taylor. Cons: Laidlaw, Weir. Pen: Laidlaw 3
Wales: Williams; North, Davies, Roberts, James; Biggar, G Davies; Evans/Jenkins 47, Baldwin/Owens 47, Lee/Francis 68, Charteris/B Davies 47, Jones, Warburton (Capt), Tipuric /Lydiate 62, Faletau.
Scotland: Hogg/Jackson 28; Lamont, Bennett, Taylor, Seymour; Russell/Weir 67, Laidlaw/Hidalgo-Clyne 77; Dickinson/Reid 67 Ford/McInally 67 Nel, R Gray, J Gray/Swinson, Barclay/Cowan 67/Barclay 75, Hardie, Denton.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU).