Wales’ quest for the Grand Slam continues after they left Murrayfield with yet another victory. In a bruising encounter, tries from Josh Adams and Jonathan Davies helped Wales to a 6-15 halftime lead. Darcy Graham’s second half try in his first international start gave Scotland hope, but the Welsh defence held firm and a late penalty from Gareth Anscombe confirmed Wales’ 11-18 victory. This match leaves Scotland likely to finish with just 1 win from 5 in the tournament this season, while a win over Ireland next weekend will see Wales complete the Grand Slam.
Same old story
It feels like every round, Scotland have been left lamenting yet another injury to their squad. This week, they lost both Tommy Seymour and Blair Kinghorn in the first half alone, and Darcy Graham’s injury led to them finishing the game with 4 halfbacks on the pitch, with Adam Hastings at fullback and Ali Price on the wing. Compare the starting back lines from the opening rounds to the one that finished this game and the only similarities you will see are Laidlaw and Russell at 9 and 10 respectively.
While Scotland’s inability to make the most of their chances has been an issue throughout the tournament this year, the chopping and changing of personnel and players ending up in unfamiliar positions is never going to help as they are unable to build up any chemistry.
While Scotland have arguably been disappointing this tournament, it must be taken into account just how much they have been impacted by injuries, which for a nation with just 2 professional teams is going to be hard to deal with. Scotland finished the 2015 Six Nations with an 0-5 record and the Wooden Spoon yet half a year later, they were one poor lineout and refereeing decision away from a World Cup semifinal, so don’t rule out their chances of impressing in Japan later this year.
Bodies on the line
Wales may not have been the most exciting attacking team in this tournament, but defensively they have been outstanding. With just one match remaining, their 58 points conceded is the least in the tournament and barring the first half against France they have rarely looked like they have struggled.
A big part of Wales’ defence throughout the match was the choke tackle. While I am not a fan of it due to the risk of high tackles and head injuries, with players as strong as Josh Navidi and Alun Wyn Jones, the team do a great job of holding players up long enough to allow the defence to reorganise even if they don’t get the turnover.
The second half saw Wales have just 25% possession and 22% territory as they just made tackle after tackle after tackle. This was a team putting everything on the line and the images of Adam Beard and Hadleigh Parkes coming off battered and bruised just epitomised the effort of the team.
If they can continue to limit teams to just one or 2 tries, then they have the ability to match them for tries and get the win.
Hope for the future
One of the big positives for Scotland from all their injuries this season has been the emergence of some great young talent in the back row. Jamie Ritchie has been arguably their player of the tournament and even managed to keep the returning Hamish Watson on the bench for this game, while Magnus Bradbury – who has himself only just returned from injury – gave the back row some much-needed physicality and led the pack with 39 metres from 15 carries.
Hamish Watson came off the bench in the second half and made a real impact with a whopping 35 metres and 10 defenders beaten (5 more than anyone else on the pitch in this game) from just 5 carries. While John Barclay is a big loss with the experience he brings to the pack, the back 3 combination of Bradbury (23 years old), Ritchie (22) and Watson (27), with Matt Fagerson (20) is a unit to build the team around post-RWC2019.