Wales put Scotland in the Halfpenny place
Warren Gatland’s side open Six Nations campaign with comfortable win
Gareth Davies dives over for the first Welsh try against Scotland. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Wales 34 Scotland 7
Wales made a flying start to the Six Nations as they blew Scotland away 34-7 in Cardiff.
Halfpenny claimed a second touchdown after half-time and added four conversions and two penalties for a 24-point haul, before wing Steff Evans’s try secured a five-point maximum as Scotland’s recent resurgence came to a grinding halt.
Substitute back Peter Horne scored a consolation 79th-minute try for Scotland that Finn Russell converted, but the damage had long been done.
Wales’ triumph marked Warren Gatland’s 10th anniversary as head coach in style, although bigger challenges now await in the shape of reigning Six Nations champions England at Twickenham next weekend, then Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Despite their injury troubles, Wales hardly missed a collective beat.
They repeatedly rocked Scotland back on their heels through outstanding performances from the likes of lock Cory Hill, flankers Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi, plus Rhys Patchell on his first Test start as outhalf.
Scotland, in contrast, lost all the the key battles, struggling up front and not being able to shackle Wales’ broken-field runners on what was a sobering occasion for them.
Attacking forces like fullback Stuart Hogg and centre Huw Jones could not get into the game, and Wales were never seriously troubled on an afternoon when scoreline emphatically summed up their degree of dominance.
Wales launched their Six Nations campaign minus nine injured front-line players – a list of absentees that included star names like Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb – while Scotland had major front-five issues, being without their leading props and secondrow talisman Richie Gray.
Scotland, fresh from an impressive autumn campaign when they crushed Australia and ran world champions New Zealand close, were immediately on the front foot following Davies’s poor clearance, with lock Jonny Gray running deep inside the opposition 22.
Although Wales gained a penalty to relieve the danger, Scotland had made their intention clear to put pace and width on the ball, yet the home side stung them through a 60-metre breakaway score when Gareth Davies caught his opposite number Ali Price’s pass and sprinted clear.
Halfpenny converted, before Wales almost conjured a spectacular try when forwards Shingler, Hill, Rob Evans and Alun Wyn Jones combined brilliantly, but Steff Evans dropped Jones’s pass just five metres from Scotland’s line.
But it was only a temporary reprieve as Wales sacrificed a kickable penalty for an attacking scrum, and then making it pay as they exposed Scotland defensively and Halfpenny claimed his first Wales try for five years, before his conversion made it 14-0 after 12 minutes.
Scotland inevitably took time to recover their composure following the ferocity of Wales’ start, yet even when they had possession it was mostly from unthreatening positions, and they remained scoreless as half-time approached.
And there were only five minutes to the break when Wales came under sustained pressure for the first time, facing a five-metre attacking Scottish scrum, but a handling error in midfield thwarted the Scots and Wales surged upfield through centre Hadleigh Parkes’s lengthy touch-finder.
Wales began the second period in untroubled mode, as two Halfpenny penalties during a five-minute spell took them 20 points clear before Scotland boss Gregor Townsend made a triple substitution, including an appearance for scrumhalf and former Test captain Greig Laidlaw.
But it made no difference to the overall picture as Halfpenny went over for his second try, adding the conversion to end things as a contest and confirm Townsend’s Six Nations coaching debut as one to forget.
Steff Evans then sealed the deal through a spectacular diving one-handed finish, with Halfpenny’s conversion ending Scottish misery and sending Wales to London next Saturday in confident mood.
WALES: L Halfpenny; J Adams, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans R Patchell, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens, S Lee; C Hill, AW Jones; A Shingler, NJ avidi, R Moriarty.
Replacements: W Jones for R Evans, T Francis for Lee (both 51 mins), B Davies for Hill (56), G Anscombe for Patchell, E Dee for Owens (both 63), J Tipuric for Moriarty (65), O Watkin for S Williams (71 mins). Not used: A Davies.
SCOTLAND: S Hogg; T Seymour, C Harris, H Jones, B McGuigan; F Russell, A Price; G Reid, S McInally, J Welsh; B Toolis, J Gray; J Barclay, H Watson, C Du Preez.
Replacements: G Laidlaw for Price, J Bhatti for Reid, R Wilson for Du Preez (all 49 mins), P Horne for Harris, S Maitland for McGuigan, G Gilchrist for Toolis (all 55), M McCallum for Welsh (65), S Lawson for McInally (70).