Sione Tuipulotu on Scotland’s missed opportunity and bouncing back against France as he reflects on his own rapid rise
Scotland left Cardiff with a lorry load of regrets and now have a fortnight to stew over their 20-17 defeat before hostilities resume against France at Murrayfield.
It was, acknowledged Sione Tuipulotu, a missed opportunity. The centre was making his first start in the Six Nations and carried hard for Scotland in the midfield, but it was Wales who found the physicality up front which paved the way for their 20-17 victory.
It’s hard to recall a time Scotland travelled to the Welsh capital with such optimism. The win over England combined with the abject Welsh defeat in Dublin in round one elevated expectations that Gregor Townsend’s side could end a miserable run in Cardiff. Instead the streak was extended to 11 straight defeats.
Wales were missing over 600 caps’ worth of experience, with Josh Adams joining a lengthy injury list that already included Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, George North and Leigh Halfpenny.
It was another old head, Dan Biggar, who was pivotal to the outcome, marking the occasion of his 100th Test cap by exerting a controlling influence over the match despite nursing a leg injury for much of the second half.
The stand-off, who played with composure throughout, kicked four penalties and then dropped a goal to edge Wales 20-17 ahead, a lead they clung to like limpets for the final ten minutes. Scotland huffed and puffed but their race was run, their cause not helped by Finn Russell’s yellow card for a deliberate knock on.
“It was a tough one to take,” acknowledged Tuipulotu. “We’re gutted to be honest. But we’re also excited to try and bounce back.
“We’ll go home now and we’ll try to take it all with us into the next game against France.
“We didn’t underestimate Wales at all. A lot was said about how we hadn’t come here and won for 20 years.
“Although we were confident we could win, I don’t think there was ever a time when that became over-confident.
“To be honest, I didn’t really know how many caps they were missing. When I looked at the team, I saw a quality outfit.
“Of course we’re disappointed. It’s a missed opportunity. But we’re going to bounce back.”
Tuipulotu admitted he was still getting his head around his own rapid rise. This time last year the former Australia Under-20 international was playing his rugby in Japan for Yamaha Jubilo.
Glasgow Warriors announced his signing in March and he joined up at Scotstoun in the summer, making an immediate impression in the pre-season match against Newcastle Falcons.
Born in Frankston, Victoria, Tuipulotu has Scottish and Tongan heritage and qualifies for Scotland through his grandmother from Greenock. Gregor Townsend fast-tracked him into his squad for the Autumn Nations Series and he made his Scotland debut in the win over Tonga in October. He won his second cap as a replacement against England but the Cardiff game was his biggest test thus far and his father, Fohe, travelled from Australia to witness the occasion.
“I found myself getting a bit emotional just at the journey over the past six months,” said the player.
“I’ve been living away from my family for the past six months and that’s been really tough for me. Just to get this chance to start my first game, I was so grateful to be part of it. I enjoyed the chance to have that opportunity.
“My old man was actually in the crowd with some of my other family. It meant a lot to me to be out there and to represent Scotland.
“My Dad was always planning to come over for the Six Nations whether I was selected or not.
“He’s happy to be here and I’m happy to have him over. I’ve missed out on seeing my family over the past six months. So I was happy for him to be here in the crowd and to experience it. He’s loving it. He’ll be here for the rest of the Six Nations. He’s on a bit of a world tour.”
Next stop is Edinburgh for the visit of France as Scotland try to get their campaign back on track. They have a more than decent home record against the French in the Six Nations but Fabien Galthie’s side look in ominous form as they chase their first title in 12 years. Their victory over Ireland on Saturday leaves them top of the standings as the tournament embarks on its first mini-break.
Despite the impressive progress under Townsend, Scotland remain a side desperately searching for consistency. You have to go back to 1996 for the last time they won their opening two games in the championship.
The two steps forward, one step back mentality is encapsulated in the performance of their chief playmaker. Russell was instrumental in creating Darcy Graham’s try, spinning a perfectly weighted pass to the winger as Scotland gained some first-half momentum before Wales restored parity with Tomas Francis’ try from a lineout drive.
Russell missed the conversion from out on the right touchline but he kicked four from four penalties as the visitors moved into the lead.
The yellow card looked a little unlucky. Russell came into the line in a bid to intercept from Dillon Lewis but his one-handed attempt to get the ball was deemed a deliberate knock-on by referee Nic Berry as the Scot collided with the Welsh replacement prop.
Following on from yellow and red cards against England and France respectively in last year’s tournament it adds up to an unwanted collection for the Racing stand-off.
Captain Stuart Hogg bemoaned Scottish indiscipline in the immediate aftermath in Cardiff as the visitors conceded 13 penalties to Wales’ eight. It goes without saying that keeping 15 players on the field is imperative against France on February 26.
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