The wonder wing bags a try double as Wales win 25-24 in a Six Nations humdinger
Louis Rees-Zammit stuns the Scots
Wales went to the top of the Six Nations table after a pulsating 25-24 victory over Scotland at BT Murrayfield. Two-try wing Louis Rees-Zammit was named Guinness Man of the Match after a clash that developed into a championship classic after a nondescript start.
For the second week running, Wayne Pivac’s team played against 14 men for a large part of the game after an opposition red card.
Scotland were leading shortly after the 50-minute mark when prop Zander Fagerson was dismissed for a dangerous clear-out on Wales loosehead Wyn Jones. Jones was to score soon afterwards as Wales not only racked up a try bonus point but ended a six-match away losing streak. Next up for them is England in Cardiff, when they can win a Triple Crown.
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For the hosts, defeat was a bitter pill to swallow one week after their heroic victory against defending champions England. Spurred on by inspirational captain Stuart Hogg, who also scored a brace of tries, they will feel this is one that got away.
Their set-piece, so solid at Twickenham, proved a little more fallible this time but it was the red card that swung the odds decisively against them.
Gregor Townsend’s men had led 17-3 early in the second quarter and they might point to another turning point – a disallowed try soon after half-time when lock Scott Cummings was ruled – correctly – to have obstructed the defence as Gary Graham went over by the posts.
Instead of stretching out to 24-8, Scotland found themselves embroiled in a nail-biter when Liam Williams was put in by Rees-Zammit just a couple of minutes later.
Then came Fagerson’s rush of blood, followed quickly by a try by the excellent Wyn Jones to put the visitors in front.
Callum Sheedy, a replacement for Dan Biggar, missed the conversion and that was made to look more costly when Hogg got outside Owen Watkin to dot down in the corner. Russell slotted the extras from the touchline, 24-20.
But Rees-Zammit wasn’t finished. The Gloucester wing, who only celebrated his 20th birthday last week, produced a phenomenal kick-and-chase finish to nudge Wales ahead once more with ten minutes remaining. It was the third try of his fledgling Test career.
Scotland had a final chance to salvage the situation but Watkin’s brilliant tap tackle on Duhan van der Merwe, with the clock in the red, ensured that Wales got home.
In many ways it was a smash and grab. Wales had only 38% possession and 32% territory, they finished second best by a mile in the tackle breaks (27-7). Wyn Jones and No 8 Taulupe Faletau, with 19 tackles to go with his 11 carries, were central to a dogged rearguard action in the final ten minutes. In all, Pivac’s men made 181 tackles.
Pivac said: “We’ve shown a lot of character (to come back from 17-3 down). At that stage of the game it wasn’t going to script but we regathered our thoughts, the leadership on the field was good and we came away with that score before half-time which was vital for us going into the changing rooms.
“Louis took his opportunities very well. He’s still got work to do and that’s the exciting thing, without the ball. He’s going to be a very, very exciting player going forward for us.
“He’s got the confidence with ball in hand. He’s got the pace, you can’t coach that, he’s very, very quick. He showed that and took that opportunity very well and the skill with the kick was magnificent.
“It’s well documented what we did in the autumn and that was with a view of the World Cup and building some depth. You saw today the side that we put out, we’ve had to call on some depth at six and in the midfield and everybody put their hand up when they needed to.”
The early stages had produced a stalemate. Having conceded only six penalties at Twickenham last weekend, Scotland coughed up three in the first six minutes, the last of which saw Leigh Halfpenny kick Wales in front for offside.
Russell levelled matters after Alun Wyn Jones was pinged for not rolling away. Hamish Watson’s strength in contact, once leading a choke tackle on Nick Tompkins, was evident. The Scots lost Blade Thomson early after a head knock, Gary Graham his replacement, and also their first lineout of the championship.
But they seized control in dramatic fashion with two tries from astute kicks. First, wing Darcy Graham strolled over after catching Ali Price’s chip over the top from a ruck.
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Then Hogg chased his own chip and between them Halfpenny and Rees-Zammit couldn’t sweep it up. Scotland’s captain pounced to score his 21st try for his country.
Russell converted both and suddenly Scotland were well clear at 17-3.
Things got even worse for the visitors when Halfpenny was deemed to have tackled Darcy Graham while he was still in the air and the full-back was forced off for an HIA. Willis Haloholo of Cardiff Blues came on for his Test debut.
Wales needed a response and they got it just before half-time after they spurned a kick at goal to opt for the lineout. They shifted the ball wide and Rees-Zammit finished coolly in the right-hand corner. Biggar missed the conversion, so Scotland led 17-8 at the break.
It was an eventful end to the first period – but the real drama was to come.
After the match, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said: “We had a lot of opportunities: some that we took, some that led to penalties, some that we felt could have led to more penalties with the pressure that we had Wales under in the second half.
“Then there were just a couple of finishing issues, with Scott Cummings and Gary Graham running the same line and that should have been a try with the pressure we had on them.
“The loss of Blade Thomson so early certainly affected our lineout. Blade was playing really well, he carried strongly and it was unfortunate he just got caught with a stray knee.
“Wales did well in the lineout from there and we shuffled things up when Richie Gray came on and put them under pressure. But we could have done better in terms of our discipline.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt); Darcy Graham (WP Nel 57), Chris Harris, James Lang (Huw Jones 71), Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland (Oli Kebble 69), George Turner (David Cherry 69), Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Blade Thomson (Gary Graham 13, Richie Gray 56), Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Tries: Graham, Hogg 2. Cons: Russell 3. Pen: Russell.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Willis Halaholo 33); Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins, Liam Williams; Dan Biggar (Callum Sheedy 49), Gareth Davies (Kieran Hardy 49); Wyn Jones (Rhodri Jones 78), Ken Owens (Elliot Dee 71), Tomas Francis (Leon Brown 63), Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt, Will Rowlands 71), Aaron Wainwright (James Botham 63), Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
Tries: Rees-Zammit 2, Williams, Wyn Jones. Con: Sheedy. Pen: Halfpenny.
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