This was it: the chance for Scotland to prove a point. Last weekend’s win over England has started becoming a regular occurrence. But in the past, they had put so much into that, only to lose their next match. Now, at home against a Wales team just beginning to try and re-find itself under Warren Gatland, the Scots found themselves in a situation where they had to back up the win…
And it was the Scots who got the first chance, as a Huw Jones break took Scotland up to the Welsh 22, where their pressure earned an early penalty for Finn Russell to open the scoring. Russell added a second as Scotland appeared the more dangerous through the first quarter, while Dan Biggar missed a relatively routine first kick at goal after the Welsh scrum earned a penalty. Scotland nearly had the opening try on the half hour as they spread the ball wide from a strong lineout maul to Kyle Steyn, only for Rio Dyer and Josh Adams to force him into touch. But the hosts had a penalty advantage from the maul and went back to the corner, and this time there was no stopping them as George Turner forced his way over for the opening try. Turner’s next action though was not so positive, as he was sent to the bin for a high tackle on George North, and while the Welshman went for a HIA, his teammates went to the corner and took advantage of the extra man in the pack to drive Ken Owens over for the try. And as the half came to an end, Wales should have had a second, only for the final pass to be fumbles into touch by Rio Dyer to keep the score at 13-7.
With Scotland back to a full complement just minutes into the second period they began to regain their dominance, and Turner was just inches from a second try, only to fumble as he tried to reach for the line. However the pressure from the Scots continued and when Finn Russell eventually found a gap just in front of the try line, he managed to throw a beautiful offload out the back of his hand to allow Kyle Steyn to simply catch the ball and fall over the line. And the next Scotland attack saw Liam Williams sent to the bin after referee Paul Williams tired of the team’s persistent offending, and the extra man proved crucial immediately, as a strong maul and a tight dummy line from Sione Tuipulotu helf the Welsh defence in narrow and allowed Russell to hit Steyn with the crosskick for his second try of the match. And as the game entered the final 10 minutes, Scotland secured the bonus point as Duhan van der Merwe took Russell’s cross kick and drew the defence before playing the ball back inside to Blair Kinghorn to go over from close range. And with just minutes remaining there was time for one more try as Russell’s looped pass put Matt Fagerson over in the corner to make it a 35-7 win and record margin of victory for Scotland over Wales.
As a Gloucester fan, when I saw that Chris Harris had been dropped to the bench against England with Huw Jones starting, I thought that Gregor Townsend was crazy. One of the best 13s in the game, Harris is a defensive linchpin and always seems to be in place to make a crucial covering tackle or shoot out the line to make a timely man and ball hit.
However, after 2 matches, it’s hard to argue that it was the wrong call. Clubmates at Glasgow, Jones and Sione Tuipulotu have formed an impressive dynamic pairing in the centre, while Jones has generally been able to form a good line with Finn Russell too, which has resulted in a Scottish midfield trio that are generally making the right decisions and then executing the plays, allowing the Scots to really take advantage of the quality they have on the wings.
The big questions are still to be answered, though. In England and Wales, they have faced the 2 teams who are just starting their journeys under new coaches, so as a result, the attacks have been relatively disjointed and easier to defend. While momentum is on their side, they now have to face 3 more established attacks, who will be far more clinical. Against such teams, can “Huwipulotu” work as well? Or will the need for security see more minutes for Chris Harris?
Welsh fans got a real look at the future today with Warren Gatland’s selection. While Joe Hawkins is already establishing himself as Warren Gatland’s first choice at 12 and Rio Dyer is taking advantage of Louis Rees-Zammit’s injury to gain some Test experience, they were joined this week by a number of fellow youngsters in the pack.
Following disappointing performances from a number of the experienced Lions last week, Warren Gatland dramatically lowered the average age of the back 5 in the pack, replacing Alun Wyn Jones with Dafydd Jenkins and seeing fellow Premiership youngsters Christ Tshiunza and Tommy Reffell joining Jac Morgan in the back row. And while things weren’t perfect for the Welsh pack, they were certainly not the issue, and if anything they were certainly adding drive and positivity to the Welsh performance while looking far more assured han their combined handful of caps would suggest.
Warren Gatland was probably hoping that he could start bringing through the youth into the squad and see them take over the starting spots immediately after the World Cup, similar to what France did in 2020. However with the major upturn in performance from last week to this, he may find that many of them are forcing their way into the XV a year early.
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