STUART BATHGATE @ Stadiwm Zip World
SCOTLAND are still waiting for their first away win in the Six Nations since 2006 after just failing to pull off a dramatic comeback in Colwyn Bay last night. Thirteen-nil down at half-time after a dominant first 40 from the Welsh pack, the Scots looked to have little chance of getting anything from the game, but three tries and a conversion after the break took them desperately close.
If the Scots backs were superior creatively to their opposite numbers, the forwards were often second best at the scrum and lineout, and the team as a whole took too long to get up to the standard of physicality required.
“To be brutally honest, we didn’t front up in the first half,” head coach Shade Munro said after seeing his side emerge with no more than a losing bonus point. “Everything we’d been working on was to front up, be as physical as we possibly could, and cope with that strength of Wales’s. We didn’t do that until parts of the second half.”
As expected, Wales were strong in the set piece, and there was an ominous start to the match when they won a penalty at the first scrum, only for full-back Jodie Evans hit the upright with her attempt at goal. The home team kept up their purposeful start and from the first lineout drove a maul more than 20 metres, only to lose possession forward when they spread the ball left.
It was a promising line of attack, however, and one which bore fruit after 10 minutes. The forwards again did the initial damage, and this time the backs made no mistake, with left-winger Jess Kavanagh-Williams crossing for an unconverted try.
Right-winger Hannah Bluck looked likely to score a second just before the midway point of the first half, but she knocked on deep inside the Scots’ 22. Scotland had offered nothing in attack up to that point bar the glimpse of a threat from Chloe Rollie and new cap Liz Musgrove, and they went further behind after 26 minutes when Evans was on target with a penalty from the edge of the 22.
Realising they needed to up the tempo in response to that score, Scotland put together their first sustained attack of the game, and should have made the pressure tell when winning three penalties in the Wales 22. All three were kicked to touch then set up for the forwards to try to force their way over from close range, but the defence held firm and were eventually awarded a penalty of their own.
An 8-0 half-time deficit would not have been too bad given the pressure Scotland had been under, especially in the first quarter, but they conceded a second try deep into time added in. A Welsh scrum took the ball close to the Scots line, the penalty was conceded, and a quick tap put Bluck in at the right corner.
Evans again failed to add the two points, and Scotland could take some slight consolation from that miss, and from the fact that they had also been well behind against the same opponents a year ago before fighting back to win. But in that game, Scotland’s first Six Nations victory in seven years, Wales had not been so superior up front.
In other words, the visitors needed something remarkable if they were to give themselves a chance of a recovery – and they got it three minutes into the second half when Rollie wriggled out a tackle and had the strength to get over the line. The conversion was missed by Lana Skeldon, one of several half-time switches made by Munro, but the score was at least something for Scotland to build on – or it would have been had Wales not hit back quickly with a score of their own. Wales’ forward dominance again did the damage, and after being held up several times on the line they got the ball out to the backs, giving Kerin Lake an easy run to the line.
Scotland did not let their heads go down, however, and hit back with an excellent try just inside the final quarter of an hour. Hannah Smith and Lisa Thomson, among others, played crucial roles in the build-up, and Rollie again came into the line to finish the move off.
Another missed conversion meant Munro’s team still needed two scores to win, and they went all out to get them against a tiring Welsh defence. With 10 minutes to go, Jade Konkel finished off from a metre out, and Sarah Law converted to close the gap to a single point.
Wales summoned up some reserves of energy, however, and with five minutes left, Jodie Rettie was sinbinned for collapsing a maul. The numerical advantage helped the home team close the game down and hold on for a narrow victory which over the piece they deserved.
Wales: J Evans; H Bluck, K Lake, R de Filippo, J Kavanagh-Williams; R Wilkins, J Knight; C Thomas, C Phillips, A Evans, N John, M Clay, A Butchers, B Lewis, S Lillicrap. Substitutes: K Jones, G Pyrs, C Hale, T Davies, N Davies, R Parker, L George, L Neumann.
Scotland: C Rollie; E Musgrove, L Thomson, L Martin, R Lloyd ; H Nelson, J Maxwell; J Konkel, R Malcolm, M Kennedy, E Wassell, D McCormack, H Smith, L McMillan, S Bonar. Substitutes: L Skeldon, S McMillan, L Smith, M Lowish, S Cattigan, J Rettie, S Law, L Harris.
Scorers: Wales: Tries: Kavanagh-Williams, Bluck, Lake. Pen: J Evans.
Scotland: Tries: Rollie 2, Konkel. Con: Law.
Scoring sequence: 5-0, 8-0, 13-0 half-time, 13-5, 18-5, 18-10, 18-15, 18-17.
Yellow card: Rettie (Scotland) 75 mins.
Referee: S Gallagher (Ireland).