Wales grasp opportunity to set up unexpected tilt at Triple Crown
Last autumn’s experimentation paying off for Pivac’s side as Rees-Zammit’s brilliant late try breaks 14-man Scotland’s hearts
Wales’s Louis Rees-Zammit chases his own kick to score a fine individual try late in the exciting one-point win over Scotland at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
he wheel turns quickly in the Six Nations.
It wasn’t long ago Scotland were the talk of the tournament after their famous win against England at Twickenham, but after the helter-skelter match at Murrayfield on Saturday, Wales, who started the championship as underdogs, are on top, the only team left with a shot at the Triple Crown.
That will be settled in Cardiff in a fortnight’s time, when they play England. The Scots, meanwhile, need to dust themselves off from this bitterly disappointing loss and get ready for a trip away to play France in Paris that same weekend.
The Welsh know they’ve had the rub of the red cards, Ireland were down to 14 men for 67 minutes last week, Scotland for 27 minutes this week. But however they came about, those back-to-back wins will do wonders for their confidence after they lost four out of six games they played in the autumn.
And there was plenty to admire in the bloody-minded way they closed out the game at Murrayfield.
“We’re well aware that there are massive improvements to make,” said Alun Wyn Jones, “but yes, we’re pleased with the resilience we still have, the character we are showing, and the pride in the jersey that we are displaying.”
There are plenty of men in that Welsh squad who know what it takes to win a Test match. Jones is one of them, and you guess that, underneath it, he bristles at the way his team were written off after their results last year. He made a point of talking about how they were reaping the fruit they sowed last autumn, that, “what you’re seeing is a product of the experimentation in the Nations Cup”.
Head coach Wayne Pivac agreed.
“It’s well documented what we did in the autumn was with a view to building some depth, and you saw today we had to call on that depth, in the back row, and also in the midfield.”
Four of the 15 who finished Saturday’s match made their debuts in the autumn. England, Pivac said, “will pose a different challenge and we fully respect the side that they have, and the threat they will pose”.
His prop Tomas Francis seemed genuinely delighted by the prospect.
“We only had a six-day turnaround for this game, but we’ve got two full weeks now, which is exciting, we can build as a squad, have some good training sessions, rip into each other, and then hopefully be in a much better place come England.
“It’s a one-off game with a fallow week either side, we’re at home, at the Principality Stadium, and it’s our last home game of the tournament, and we just want to go out there and put on the best show we can.”
As for Scotland, they will need a little time to lick their wounds. Gregor Townsend said the general mood in their dressing room was “disappointment and exhaustion” on Saturday night.
They played brilliantly well, better, in some ways, than they had the previous week.
“But we’ve got to take what all the things about the way we played that will make us a real threat and challenge for France, and we’ve obviously got to fix the areas that make it easier for teams to get into games,” he said.
Mainly, that means discipline. And not just because of that red card.
“Discipline is not just one thing. The easy one to fix is staying onside, but other ones would be our decision-making around maul defence, we gave a couple of penalties there from poor decisions, which puts us under pressure, and our decision-making around the tackle area.”
Zander Fagerson was sent off for a dangerous ruck clear out and Wales ruthlessly exploited the extra space, with young star Louis Rees-Zammit scoring a breathtaking brace to seal a 25-24 win.
Scotland should have been out of sight before Wales hit back, however. Two tries to the good following scores from Darcy Graham and Hogg, Gary Graham wrecked a promising bid for a third when he got caught on top of the ball. His chance to make amends as he crossed over just after half-time was then scuppered by Scott Cummings, who was pinged for obstruction.
Despite being a man down for the final 27 minutes, Scotland fought to the end and could have snatched it had Hogg received a better pass from the charging Duhan Van Der Merwe in stoppage time.