Welsh All Black of Neath brings relief

 

It needed the footballing nous of an All Black called Shane to bring some relief at the end of one of the most tortuous weeks that even Wales's rugby followers have endured at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

But, steady on, these are the Welsh All Blacks of Neath we are talking about and Shane Williams is as home-grown as Bleddyn and JPR. In a side that showed eight changes from that run to ground at Twickenham there was little need to go digging into the roots of family trees when Graham Henry included Williams, Thomas, Taylor and Jones in his back division.

The Neath wing's two marvellous predatory tries and the 16 points from the assured boot of Stephen Jones on the Llanelli's fly-half's debut gave the latest meeting of the Welsh assembly something to cheer and left a bucket of whitewash dangling over the head of Henry's opposite number Ian McGeechan.

The 22-year-old Jones, filling in for the injured Neil Jenkins, may not have the twinkling feet of a Phil Bennett or even an Arwel Thomas, but, at 14st and 6ft 1in, he is more suited to the rigours of the modern game. "He had a big game," said Henry of the hard-tackling Jones, for whom having the familiar Moon inside him helped him through his ordeal.

Moon, recalled after five years and at 32 the oldest Wales scrumhalf since Newport's 38-year-old Tommy Vile played in this fixture in 1921, was full of praise for his partner. "He was heroic. I have been in some cauldrons with Steve and he showed he is a big-match player who loves to tackle. Neil Jenkins has been encouraging him all week, which Steve has appreciated, but he has said that he wants to keep the number 10 jersey." But it was the performance of Williams that really lifted the spirits. Once told he was too small for rugby, the 5ft 8in Williams was big enough to lift the game from its trough of mediocrity.

Five minutes before the break, Williams's speed saw him blast past Craig Moir and plunge over. Try number two after 63 minutes was even better and condemned a profligate Scottish side to their fourth defeat in a moribund campaign.

It began with a dummy by Geraint Lewis, who sent Cardey on a weaving run down the left touchline. The Scots' line held firm but when Nathan Budgett prevented Chris Paterson from clearing the Welsh were able to set up two rucks and from the second Jones flung out a pass to Williams, who outflanked the Scottish defence.

The Scots can point to Leslie's disallowed try just after the break and two penalties from Hodge that struck the uprights, but they were well beaten despite some good, sustained attacking movements in the second half.

Leslie burrowed over for a try four minutes after he had been judged not to have touched down in the corner, but by the time Gregor Townsend crossed four minutes into injury-time the game was lost. Metcalfe had just returned to the field after 10 minutes in the sin bin for a bodycheck on Moon.

This is a desperately poor Scottish side. Matt Stewart was outscrummaged by Peter Rogers and he, Brotherstone, Reid and Pountney are good club players but not good enough for an international pack. John Leslie's injuries make him a shadow of the centre who broke defences last season and Townsend is surely better suited to the fly-half role whatever his faults.

England will hardly dread their journey to Edinburgh next week. Could anything blight the flowering of the red rose this spring, Henry was asked. "The beauty of this marvellous game of ours is that upsets can happen," he said. The daffodil shoots of recovery may have emerged in Cardiff but the flower of Scotland continues to wilt in a dark spring.

Scorers: Wales: Tries: Williams 2. Cons: Jones 2. Pens: Jones 4. Scotland: Tries: M Leslie, Townsend. Cons: Hodge. Pens: Hodge 2.

Wales: Cardey; Thomas, Bateman, Taylor, Williams; Jones, Moon, Rogers, G Jenkins, Young, Gough, A Moore, Budgett, Charvis, Lewis.

Scotland: Paterson; Moir, Townsend, J Leslie, Metcalfe; Hodge, Nicol, Smith, Brotherstone, Stewart, S Murray, Grimes, M Leslie, Pountney, Reid.

Replacements: Bulloch for Brotherstone (51 mins), Hilton for Stewart (82 mins)

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).