Wales stay on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam with a tense 18-11 win in Edinburgh
Watch the tries as Wales beat Scotland at Murrayfield
Wales set up a mouth-watering Grand Slam match next week against Ireland after grinding out a gutsy 18-11 win at Murrayfield.
First-half tries by Josh Adams and Jonathan Davies helped ease the visitors to a 15-6 lead at the interval, but they spent almost all of the second half on the back foot – putting in 140 tackles – as Scotland rediscovered the brio they showed early in the championship.
Darcy Graham’s first try for his country narrowed the gap to four points and prompted a furious finale in which Hamish Watson, a mighty carrier, embodied the Scottish fight.
However, the second try they needed didn’t come and Gareth Anscombe’s last-minute penalty put the seal on Wales’ record 13th successive victory and maintained Warren Gatland’s perfect record as Wales head coach against Scotland. He has won all 11 meetings against them, although rarely as uncomfortably as this.
All Wales’ best work in this tournament has been done in the second half but this time the damage was done in the first half an hour. After falling behind to a Finn Russell penalty, Wales bagged the first try when Jonathan Davies put Adams away down the left and he beat Blair Kinghorn with some classy footwork to score his third try in as many Tests.
Replays suggested Davies’s pass might have marginally forward. Watch the try below and decide for yourself.
Scotland were hindered by a number of early injuries, starting with an HIA for flanker Jamie Ritchie and a trip to the blood-bin for his replacement Watson.
Tommy Seymour retired from the fray with a hand injury after 20 minutes, Blair Kinghorn lasted only ten minutes longer, and when wing Graham picked up an injury in the second half, Scotland had to play scrum-half Ali Price out of position.
By that time, Wales had established a foundation for their third shot at a Grand Slam under Gatland. Russell and Anscombe traded penalties before Wales struck for their second try on 29 minutes. A 23-phase move included a great ‘unders’ line by Man of the Match Hadleigh Parkes. George North probably took the wrong option by going for the line, but the ball was recycled for Jonathan Davies to jink over from close range. Watch the try here.
Anscombe missed the extras and an Adams knock-on from a scrum five meant Wales failed to rack up the points their first-half dominance merited.
They had 57% possession in that opening period and made 44 fewer tackles than the Scots – but the second 40 was a totally different story.
In 2005, Wales took a first-half battering in Paris but trailed only 15-6 and were able to turn it around after two Martyn Williams tries. Here, Scotland trailed by the same scoreline and, in echoes of that 2005 clash, threatened to storm back and this time leave Wales on the receiving end. Wales went on to win a Grand Slam that year, their first of the pro era.
Having conceded just four penalties against England last time out, Wales were penalised repeatedly and spent almost the whole half tackling like fury. Bar a lone attack following a loose-ball hack that could have brought another try for Adams, Wales were under the cosh.
“We couldn’t get the ball back,” said skipper Alun Wyn Jones, who chalked up his 62nd Test win for Wales – eclipsing Gethin Jenkins’s national record.
Graham, making his first Scotland start, had signalled his intent by blasting through Josh Navidi in the first half and on 59 minutes he dotted down after a neat inside pass by Russell set Byron McGuigan flying through the red ranks. Hastings gave the scoring pass – watch the try here.
Watson’s impact off the bench was such that he beat ten defenders out of the 34 achieved by the team as a whole. “Whatever he had for breakfast should be compulsory for every player,” said BBC pundit Martyn Williams.
Wales were creaking. They missed 26 tackles but made plenty more, Parkes making crucial interventions by preventing a Josh Strauss offload and winning the race to a Price chip in his in-goal area.
Liam Williams (shoulder) went off injured after a tackle on Allan Dell and Wales will pray that he recovers quickly with the Grand Slam match just seven days away.
Wyn Jones, immense yet again, referred to the “turbulent week” that undermined the Welsh performance, the backdrop being the Project Reset rumours that have swirled around the Principality and beyond all week.
Gatland also acknowledged that destabilising effect but his side march on, unbeaten since the Ireland match a year ago. There is an incredible steel and resolve about them that augurs well for this year’s World Cup.
For Scotland, it was pride restored after the poor showing in France, but they will need to produce an exceptional performance at Twickenham next weekend to avoid finishing with just a solitary win in this championship.
“I’m proud of the way the team played and the physicality they showed,” said head coach Gregor Townsend. “The character to adapt to things that were going against us – whether that was injuries early on, or Wales scoring a couple of early tries – we showed a really good picture of who we are, especially in the second half.
“I firmly believe that if we had just improved our defence and had better spacing, we’re winning this game.”
Skipper Stuart McInally added: “The try we scored was brilliant and it was great to see Darcy get on the end of it, he worked so hard. There were a number of guys who stepped up and put the third-best team in the world under incredible amounts of pressure.”
The stats illustrate the magnitude of the Scottish effort. They reversed the trend of Welsh possession in this championship by achieving 58% of the ball, along with 57% territory. They made twice as many line breaks, three times as many tackle breaks and carried for 779 metres compared to Wales’ 464.
Wales conceded 11 penalties – their ugliest figure of the championship – and their lineout continues to cause them consternation.
For all that, they are nailing the one stat that really matters – the match score – and whatever Ireland throw at them in Cardiff next week, Wales will be ready.