Gregor Townsend vows to fix Scotland indiscipline but thought parts of play v Wales were better than at Twickenham
Gregor Townsend’s side conceded only six penalties at Twickenham in a performance full of composure and attacking intent. Seven days later, and the penalty count had risen to 11. That was two fewer than Wales but Scotland’s charge sheet also included a red card for Zander Fagerson at a point early in the second half when the visitors were gaining momentum.
It was a thrilling match which deserved to be seen by a sell-out crowd and the players deserve great credit for serving up such a game in an empty stadium in sub-zero temperatures.
The lead changed hands five times before Wales prevailed by a single point, and a couple of the seven tries were absolute crackers.
Townsend thought his players were “outstanding” and went as far as to suggest that aspects of the performance were better than what had been produced at Twickenham.
But the stark reality is that Scotland should have won and the 25-24 reverse has blown a massive hole in their Guinness Six Nations title chances which looked so promising after the first half hour.
They led 17-3 with two minutes of the first half remaining but conceded three tries, had a try disallowed and lost Fagerson in the disastrous 17 minutes that followed.
Stuart Hogg, outstanding for the second week in a row, dragged Scotland back into the lead in the 65th minute with his second try of the match, but winger Louis Rees-Zammit won it for Wales with a superb score five minutes later.
“The players are hugely disappointed because we felt we had that game under control,” said Townsend.
“To build up such a big lead and play with that accuracy, that energy, we had Wales under pressure.
“We built up that lead and had a try ruled out that could have put us even further ahead.
“We really felt this was going to be an 80-minute contest but we were well ahead on the scoreboard.
“Other things happened that put us under pressure. Obviously the red card being one, us just slipping for five minutes’ concentration and Wales taking their chances.
“But the players backed up their performance in England. I thought the performance was outstanding – and even better, in some aspects, than the win at Twickenham.”
In truth, Wales posed far more of an attacking threat than England did. They look to have uncovered a gem in Rees-Zammit who scored two tries, the second of which was brilliant.
For Scotland, the chance to win their opening two matches in the Championship for the first time in 25 years went a-begging and it’s the Stade de France next, a venue in which the Scots have not won in 22 years.
Townsend will use the next fortnight to try to find a solution to the concession of costly penalties. The coach cited similar indiscipline in the final game of the autumn against Ireland and took heart from the way that was remedied at Twickenham last weekend.
“It’s certainly something we can practise,” he said. “We practised and talked about it a lot after the Ireland game. Discipline is not just one thing. But an easy one to fix is staying onside.
“Other ones are decision making around what you do in your maul defence. We gave a couple of penalties away there from poor decisions which put us under pressure.
“There’s also decision making around the tackle area. I don’t think there were any penalties from that in this game – but obviously the ruck clear from Zander led to the red card.
“So there are certainly things we can talk about and practise.
“The opposition put you under pressure to concede penalties, as we did against England and as we did again, at times, against Wales. You have to factor that in.
“But it’s something we can work on and improve, as we showed between the Ireland and England games.”
Scotland conceded three penalties to Wales inside the opening seven minutes, an early indicator of their profligacy.
The visitors opted for a pot at goal with the third one and Leigh Halfpenny slotted over the first points of the day but a Finn Russell penalty drew Scotland level a minute later. The stand-off was flawless in front of the posts, converting all three Scottish tries, two of them from out wide.
It was also Russell who helped spark the game’s opening try, from Darcy Graham, after 18 minutes. Russell’s break and offload to Jonny Gray allowed Scotland to recycle before Ali Price delivered a perfectly-measured chip over the static Welsh defence for Graham to gather and scamper round Halfpenny.
The Scots increased their lead six minutes later with a fine wraparound move. The ball was fed to Hogg who kicked on and, when Halfpenny allowed the ball to slip from his grasp, the Scotland captain pounced.
It was 17-3 and the only fly in the ointment for Scotland was the early loss of Blade Thomson who’d received an accidental dunt on the head from team-mate George Turner. Gary Graham replaced him but the back row balance had been disrupted.
Wales were edging their way back into the game and worked the ball wide through Nick Tompkins and Liam Williams before Rees-Zammit ran in for the touchdown two minutes before the break.
Scotland came back out for the second half looking to make amends and Gary Graham thought he’d extended their lead only for the score to be chalked off for blocking by Scott Cummings.
Instead of going two scores in front, the home team found their lead trimmed back to two points a minute later as Wales worked a lineout maul before Rees-Zammit released Williams in space to score.
Things went from bad to worse for Scotland after 53 minutes as Zander Fagerson got his marching orders for slamming into Wyn Jones with an illegal clear-out. Referee Matthew Carley reviewed it with the TMO before pulling out the red card.
Against 14 men, Wayne Pivac’s team needed just 90 seconds to nudge in front as Jones barged over from another well-executed lineout manoeuvre.
Scotland came again, and retook the lead through Hogg who collected a Russell pass and forced his way over despite the attentions of Owen Watkin and Tompkins.
But Wales retook the lead decisively with 10 minutes left as Rees-Zammit chipped the ball over Hogg’s head before racing through for a try worthy of winning such an enthralling match.
Scorers. Scotland: Tries: D. Graham, Hogg 2. Cons: Russell 3. Pen: Russell.
Wales: Tries: Rees-Zammit 2, L. Williams, W. Jones. Con: Sheedy. Pen: Halfpenny.
Scotland: Hogg; D. Graham (Nel 57), Harris, Lang (Jones 71), Van Der Merwe; Russell, Price; Sutherland (Kebble 69), Turner (Cherry 69), Z. Fagerson, Cummings, J. Gray, Thomson (G. Graham 13; R Gray 56), Watson, M. Fagerson.
Subs not used: Steele, van der Walt.
Red card: Z. Fagerson (54)
Wales: Halfpenny (Halaholo 33); Rees-Zammit, Watkin, Tompkins, L. Williams; Biggar (Sheedy 49), G. Davies (Hardy 49); W. Jones (R Jones 78), Owens (Dee 71), Francis (Brown 63), Beard, A. W. Jones (Rowlands 71), Wainwright (Botham 63), Tipuric, Faletau.
Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU).