STUART BATHGATE @ Scotstoun
SCOTLAND were denied a first victory of their Six Nations campaign in the cruellest of fashions as Wales hit back to snatch the win in the last seconds of the game. It had looked like a Chloe Rollie try seven minutes from time would be enough to keep the home team in front, but despite winning the try count 3-2 they ended up with nothing for their efforts other than a losing bonus point.
Notwithstanding the outcome, this was a significantly better performance by Shade Munro’s team compared to their previous two home defeats by Italy and Ireland, and built on what was an improved outing in France two weeks earlier – albeit an outing that still ended in a heavy loss. They were more competitive at the breakdown, their defence was at times magnificent, and in general they showed exactly the kind of character and commitment that the head coach had asked for.
And all that in conditions that were pretty severe even for hardened habitues of Scotstoun. The wind played havoc with much of the kicking, the rain made handling difficult, and in those circumstances it was remarkable that both teams should manage such an entertaining display.
Even so, the over-riding emotion at full time was bitter disappointment. “I think it is very cruel to lose the game in the last minute, but it is an 80-minute game,” Munro said. “To go ahead in the manner that we did, with five minutes to go – I’m not saying that they thought they’d won the game, because you could see with the way they defended right up until the end there . . .
“It was more of an 80-minute performance. Whilst there were elements that were not accurate, the commitment was there right throughout the game.
“I’m hugely disappointed for them, for the effort that they put in. It was a game that we could win, and it was always going to be tight, but it wasn’t to be.
“Three tries to two – we’ll take that as a positive. And defensively there were a lot of positives there.
“There’s still a bit of they want to win so much that mistakes come. That comes from not winning often enough, and when you start winning you become a bit more ruthless.”
The match kicked off seven minutes late, but Scotland wasted no time in taking the game to their opponents, twice producing promising multi-phase attacks. The first was halted by an obdurate defence, but the second saw Jade Konkel open the scoring from short distance after captain Lisa Thomson had taken a quick tap penalty. Lana Skeldon’s conversion attempt was carried wide by the swirling wind, but it was exactly the start the home team had been looking for in their bid to record a first victory in this season’s Championship.
Wales soon reduced the deficit, however, with a Robyn Wilkins penalty from in front of the posts, then took the lead with their first try after quarter of an hour. The trouble for Scotland began when they conceded a free kick at a lineout inside their own 22, and that set up the visitors for a series of drives that culminated in openside flanker Bethan Lewis forcing her way over the line for a score to which Wilkins added the two points.
If that was a dispiriting passage of play for Munro’s side, it was one from which they quickly recovered to regain the lead. An attack from the restart edged ever closer to the Welsh line, and with too many defenders sucked into a maul on the goal line, lock Sarah Bonar glided through some space on the blind side to get her team’s second try, again unconverted.
The open, attack-minded nature of the game was surprising given the conditions, not to mention the fact that Wales had battled to a 3-3 draw with Italy in their last away fixture, but both sides kept up their positive intent as half-time approached. Scotland’s work at the breakdown was appreciably sharper than it had been in their two previous home games, as it had to be in the last few minutes before the break as Wales applied heavy pressure in search of the score to restore their lead.
After twice opting to scrum penalties on the home five-metre line, the Welsh thought they had got back in front when No 8 Siwan Lillicrap picked up and dotted down, but the score was denied when a replay showed she had lost it forward. That gave Scotland a defensive scrum, from which Helen Nelson kicked out to end the half.
Despite playing into the wind, Wales dominated the opening stages of the second half, but after running a penalty were first held up on the Scots line and then dispossessed in the tackle. Then Scotland themselves knocked on as they tried to play out of defence, but got off lightly when Wales were penalised for going off their feet in a ruck.
The home team’s defensive solidity was impressive, but after 15 minutes of the second period they had hardly got out of their own half. With Jenny Maxwell on for Mhairi Grieve at scrum-half, the home side upped the tempo, but their first sustained attack of the half ended in a knock-on.
The ground gained was a positive sign, nonetheless, and Scotland kept on looking the likelier to score for much of the remaining time. With the weather worsening, clear chances for either side became far fewer, but then with seven minutes to go, the best move of the game put Scotland back in front.
Nothing looked on at first when the attack began in midfield, but Lisa Thomson spotted a space, attacked it, and then passed to Hannah Smith. The outside centre did most of the remaining hard work, drawing the last defender then putting Chloe Rollie in for a score on the right. Skeldon was again just off target with the conversion attempt.
A dropped restart put the Scots on the back foot, and gave Wales hope of ending the match on top. With three minutes to go they got a penalty and went for touch. From the lineout they steadily moved closer to the line, and just as the clock went into the red, Siwan Lillicrap drove over. Lleucu George was left with a conversion from just to the left of the posts to win the match, and she made no mistake.
Teams – Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, H Smith; L Thomson, A Sergeant (Abi Evans 71); H Nelson (L Martin 56), M Grieve (J Maxwell 56); M Kennedy, L Skeldon, M Forsyth (L Cockburn 60), E Wassell, S Bonar, R Malcolm (J Rettie 56), R McLachlan, J Konkel.
Wales: L Smyth; J Joyce, H Jones, L George, J Kavanagh; R Wilkins (E Snowsill 56), K Bevan (F Lewis 56); C Thomas, C Phillips, Amy Evans, G Crabb (A Butchers 67), M Clay, A Callender (M Johnes 54), B Lewis, S Lillicrap.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Konkel, Bonar, Rollie.
Wales: Tries: Lewis, Lillicrap. Cons: Wilkins, George. Pen: Wilkins.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0, 5-3, 5-8, 5-10, 10-10 half-time, 15-10, 15-15, 15-17.
Referee: B Benvenuti (Italy).