The Doddie Weir Cup will stay in Wales, which didn’t seem to spoil the big man’s enjoyment of proceedings, with his entire family at the Principality Stadium to support him. The biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the moment the cameras caught Doddie grabbing a quiet kiss from wife Kathy. What he made of the game is anyone’s guess but the rugby and the result suddenly seemed a lot less important in the circumstances.
At least a scratch Scotland side were somewhat improved from their showing in February, bouncing back from a dreadful opening half hour to dominate long stretches of the final 30 minutes and they might, with a little luck, have made Wales sweat more than they did. Instead the home side carved out a 21-10 lead early in the second half and seemed reasonably content to sit on it.
Wales coach Warren Gatland suggested that his side were reasonably comfortable in defence. He also stated that his squad had been concentrating on conditioning in recent weeks, which may explain the second half wobbles.
The result is not overly important but the manner in which the Welsh forwards bossed the contact zone in the first half must be worrying for the Scottish coaching staff.
The lineout went well and the set scrum won a penalty at the first attempt but struggled thereafter, even if the Welsh front row looked like they were walking around the Scots rather than pushing straight.
The Scots never came to terms with Wales’ rush defence, goodness knows how many decades after Shaun Edwards first introduced it. The visitors had neither the wit to work the ball around the red wall or the beef to go through it and instead were reduced to kicking too much precious possession away. Their own defence was punctured twice and the visitors will wonder how they failed to score any points against a Welsh team reduced to 14 men for ten minutes towards the end of this match.
The Scottish forwards lost almost all the big collisions, especially in that woeful first 40, which created a vicious circle. Slow ball for the Scots resulted in the Welsh defence getting on the front foot which meant more slow ball for the visitors. Ali Price needed a pick -
axe to prize the ball from Welsh bodies.
The Scottish backs rarely looked like scoring, although they improved with the introduction of two Horne brothers late in the game. Adam Hastings was put through the mill more than once but he will be all the better for the experience. Hamish Watson was Scotland’s best player, carrying further than anyone his size has a right to, Scotland’s answer to the Duracell bunny.
But the flanker was one of the few to make any headway with ball in hand and at times it seemed that Scotland had abandoned their all court game altogether and reverted to lineout mauls after scoring from one in the first half.
Leigh Halfpenny kicked Wales into the lead as early as the fourth minute and the fullback quickly added two more off the tee, to one from Hastings, so when George North broke the tackles of Huw Jones and Alex Dunbar to score the opening try on the half hour mark, the Scots were looking at a landslide.
Stuart McInally threw his team a lifeline. In what was just about Scotland’s only real attack in the first half, the hooker did well to barel over the Welsh line from a five metre lineout.
With Hastings adding the extras the half time score was 14-10, the Scots still contesting a fight they had no right to. Not for long.
Seven minutes into the second half Jon Davies scored from an attacking lineout with Huw Jones, again, copping the defensive blame. The Glasgow centre picked himself off the turf and walked the slow, lonely walk of shame to join his team mates behind the posts.
Gregor Townsend reacted with an all-new front row and the Scots enjoyed better fortune, dominating the last half hour. Ryan Wilson got the ball over the Welsh line but was held up and Jonny Gray “scored” from a lineout only for the TMO to wipe it after the lock for a double movement.
More substitutes arrived just after the hour mark, George Horne amongst them, and the little scrum-half made an immediate impact, turbo boosting the pace of Scotland’s attack. He was at the heart of the visitors’ best move, a sweeping attack that went wide before Dunbar straightened and Horne Jnr, on his inside, was tackled short of the line, unable to get the last offload away.
The Scots cause was helped by having an extra man at the death, Wales’ hooker Elliot Dee binned on 69. The two Horne brothers looked to have scored when George dinked the ball over the Welsh line and Peter appeared to collect it for a try, but the TMO again wiped it off and another Scottish handling error allowed Wales to get out of jail.