By Paul Williams
14 man Scotland. Smashed
WALES BEAT Scotland 51-3 in what became a training ground rout. Of course, this wasn’t Scotland. This was 14 man Scotland. After Stuart Hogg’s foolishly late hit on Dan Biggar in the 22nd minute the game was over as a contest. As a result Wales dominated every aspect of the game. Wales secured 55% of the ball and 58% of the territory. With a glut of ball and a permanent one-man overlap, for 58 minutes the Welsh backline broke the gain-line at will – at times it looked like Wales were playing against training cones draped in navy blue rugby shirts.
Domination of the gain-line allowed the Welsh three quarters to break the shackles of the usually overly structured game plan and score the sort of tries that were reminiscent of the 2005 and 2008 vintage. But for all of the positives from the Welsh performance one in particular stands out – the players were smiling. For the first time during this tournament the Welsh squad looked happy on the field, and appeared to enjoy playing a wider, less shackled plan. It was an uplifting ending to a frustrating championship for Wales.
Biggar brings some calm.
Dan Biggar delivered an immensely composed performance against Scotland. His line kicking was deep and accurate, his defence was brave and his distribution was refined. His composure was made even more remarkable when you consider that after 22 minutes he was stretched out on the grass after Stuart Hogg’s impression of Randy ‘the Macho Man’ Savage.
It was the sort of late hit that could have easily shaken up a second-row forward, let alone an outside-half, but not Biggar – he got up, grabbed the kicking tee and slotted the resulting 45m penalty over the posts. As with all of the Welsh performances – they must be taken in the context of a 14 man Scotland. However it looks as though Biggar well get a run of games against 15 man South Africa. That will be a very different proposition.
Liam Williams took his chance
Liam Williams was Man of the Match against Scotland – and rightly so. Especially when you consider that Williams had been drafted in to replace the man of the moment – the injured Leigh Halfpenny. Williams executed the basics superbly. The Scarlets’ fullback was ultra-solid under the highball and his defence was at its safe, yet aggressive, best. But Williams went beyond what was merely required in defence – he genuinely added to the Welsh team in attack.Williams’ eagerness to hit the line, outside the 13 channel, gave Wales an added dimension – it would have been effective against 15 players let alone 14.
His desire to safely offload the ball, with two hands, was instrumental in a number of Wales’ line breaks and was the catalyst for some of Wales’ aesthetically pleasing tries – Williams actually made more clean breaks and offloads than any other player on the field. Many will have been fearful about the absence of Halfpenny against Scotland – and the possible impact that it may have on Wales’ tour to South Africa. However, Liam Williams’ performance will have gone some way to calming those fears.
Skillsets on show
Recently, some of the Welsh squad have received criticism for their apparently limited skillsets – the three-quarters in particular. That’s why it was so reassuring to see key players passing and offloading with confidence. Wales offloaded the ball 14 times against Scotland – more than at any time during this tournament. Jamie Roberts, Jon Davies and George North all demonstrated that they have the ability to play a high tempo and expansive game plan – when given the opportunity.
It was particularly refreshing to see Jamie Roberts being given the freedom to throw 15/20 yard passes – instead of perpetually being launched down the 12 channels like a crash test dummy. Of course, it must be noted that this was all achieved against a six man backline and it shouldn’t mask the executional fragilities of the Irish and England performances. However it does show this group of Welsh players have the required skills when ‘they’ve earnt the right to go wide’ as Warren Gatland often says.
The benefits of TV replays
TMO’s and video replays have come in for a great deal of criticism this season. However, that wasn’t the case on Saturday. Jerome Garces made sensible use of technology in the sending off of Stuart Hogg. Having initially brandished a yellow, a quick check of the Millennium Stadium’s giant screen allowed Garces to reassess his original decision and he upgraded the offence to a red.
It was the right decision and shows the positives of technology in rugby. Whilst TV replays may seem a little ‘Orwellian’ in their over policing of negligible forward passes or marginal off-sides – its use can only be a benefit when it comes to genuinely dangerous play and player safety.