Rumours of a Scottish rugby revival appear ill-founded today after they slumped to their fourth successive Championship defeat at home for the first time since the late 1970s in going down 23-26 to Wales at BT Murrayfield.
A late consolation try by Jim Hamilton in the final play, to add to an early effort by Stuart Hogg, only provided further frustration rather than putting some gloss on the scoreline as the match ended in a blaze of controversy. After Hamilton mauled his way over, the Welsh sparked a mass brawl which ran down the clock and even then, with Finn Russell kicking the conversion, there were still four seconds left which ought to have ensured a re-start.
But faltering New Zealand ref Glen Jackson capped a mediocre display – more than 30 penalties were awarded – by blowing for no-side to leave the Scots flabbergasted.
Normally diplomatic, both full-back Stuart Hogg and skipper Greig Laidlaw were quick to call foul.
“I’m absolutely gutted,” said Hogg, adding: “We were in it right to the bitter end. To us that is another game we just let slip.
“We scored well before the 80th minute and I believe when the try was scored there was plenty of time afterwards. I asked why and as usual I got no answer.
“I never like to blame anybody, but a couple of decisions never went our way. But, hey, on another day we might have got them.”
Laidlaw added: “We came up three points short after putting in a huge amount of effort. We need to be men about it.”
Asked if he felt let down by officialdom Laidlaw replied: “Yes (but) you get some and you don’t get some.
“I don’t know the exact time on the clock at the end but I thought there were 20 seconds left when Finn kicked the kick over.
“We are not far away. This team is building and building and we are getting better and better. We will come back stronger.”
This was as painful as it gets for the Scots, though, and that isn’t even allowing for the wave of expectation following a promising autumn series and “winning” the try count in France last week.
Especially in the first half an avalanche of possession was squandered with at least two clear-cut chances going begging.
Having weathered this storm, the Welsh team grew in confidence to prove well worth their victory.
On another day, though, a stronger referee than the man making his Championship bow could have sent several to the sin-bin when penalties were conceded almost randomly to keep Scotland out at the denouement.
Indeed a high tackle by Welsh scrum-half Rhys Webb on Sam Hidalgo Clyne, instead of going unpunished, could have brought a straight red.
Scotland had inspired displays by Blair Cowan and Stuart Hogg, but a pre-match pledge to tighten discipline rang hollow when they were penalised three times in the opening five minutes, culminating in a three-pointer by Leigh Halfpenny for Blair Cowan not rolling away ln Wales’ first visit to the home 22.
However, in nine minutes a brilliant tackle by Alex Dunbar ten metres inside the Scots half allowed Russell to come away with the ball and send Stuart Hogg on a 60-metre dash up the touchline and behind the posts for his ninth Test try in 29 games. Laidlaw converted.
Clearly fired up, the Scots reacted quickest when Rob Harley pounced on Rhys Webb before the scrum-half could clear and Russell’s penalty gained a foothold inside the Welsh 22.
That sparked a neat blindside move up the front of the line-out, but a knock-out 15 metres out cost momentum with the thunderclouds gathering for the clearly shaken Welsh.
Alas, yet another penalty loss cost Scotland dearly.
Laidlaw added to the lead with a 17th minute penalty for 10-3, but a reality check soon arrived when Halfpenny caught his own kick and Hogg had to produce a try-saving tackle on Webb.
Maintaining field position, Wales forced an offside penalty and Halfpenny cut the gap.
A Scotland side for whom Cowan and Ford were carrying robustly held firm, but when Russell was penalised and received a yellow card, Halfpenny claimed the three points.
Using their extra man, the Welsh stretched the Scots on both flanks after Cowan had failed to hold a ball and, from Williams’ inside pass, Rhys Webb went in the corner.
Halfpenny’s conversion put Wales 16-10 ahead after 34 minutes.
Numbers were evened up when Jonathan Davies took Jonnie Beattie out in the air to join Russell in the sin-bin.
Scotland’s response was a rolling maul, yielding a penalty which Hogg put into touch a metre out, despite thrower Ford being down receiving treatment.
With Hogg up at stand-off in attack, the Scots laid siege to the Welsh but, despite a couple of lunges for glory by Laidlaw, ran out of time and turned round six points in arrears.
It was a highly disappointing state of affairs for Scotland considering they had ruled the line-out to gain plenty of quality possession while all the backs looked capable of line breaks.
Before Russell could settle in to provide a momentary numerical advantage, the Scots had improved the scoreboard with a penalty by Laidlaw which came, ironically, after they had lost their own line-out.
Jonathan Davies returned from the bin and the margin was restored when Scotland were penalised at a scrum despite it appearing that Welsh hooker Richard Hibbard had stood up. From halfway between posts and touchline Halfpenny kicked the 48th minute goal via the upright.
Scotland brought on Jon Welsh at prop to win his fourth cap directly up against Wales’ most capped player, Gethin Jenkins winning his 112th cap.
Again, the Scots came back with a Laidlaw penalty minutes before Richie Gray retired with an apparent arm injury; Jim Hamilton came off the bench.
Approaching the hour, Wales claimed for a try when Liam Williams went over in the corner but the “score” was disallowed for obstruction on Harley by both the Welsh second rows.
Almost immediately there was another let-off when Halfpenny pushed a penalty wide.
The Scots brought on Matt Scott and Gordon Reid, doubling the numbers of their subs on the pitch, and something was certainly needed as they were by now constantly on the back foot.
Pressure told when Matt Scott missed a tackle and Jonathan Davies dummied Hogg to go over under the posts in 64 minutes. Halfpenny converted for 26-16.
During the move, Reid succumbed to injury and Ally Dickinson returned for what would have to be a Herculean Scottish effort in the last 15 minutes.
It didn’t help that Hogg was blatantly taken out by Williams in front of Clancy with no penalty award.
When Mark Bennett broke into space and then Dickinson fed Visser out wide it was essential the Scots got something for their efforts, but poor control at the base of a ruck and inspired Welsh defence contained them.
Fancy footwork by Scott almost got him clear but a penalty lapse left the Welsh line intact.
Scotland brought on Fraser Brown and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne for the last ten minutes and the latter looked as if he might cut clean through, but a high tackle by Rhys Webb forced a knock-on from which Bennett looked to have “scored”.
The Scots kept going and crossed through Jim Hamilton for Finn Russell to convert.
Then came the real talking points as Murrayfield witnessed one of its most controversial and angriest finales to an international in years.