Scotland lost 21-10 at the Principality Stadium and probably deserved to do so because Wales gave them a lesson in taking points when they were up for grabs.
However, a glance at the match statistics suggests that the visitors could have won this game and that fact will grate with Gregor Townsend who is painfully aware that his side has slipped up more often than he would have liked, against the USA in the summer, Wales last February, and Fiji 17 months ago.
The Scots paid a hefty price for a slow start, and were in danger owhen Stuart McInally came up with a crucial try just before half-time to keep the game alive.
The last time the two teams met Leigh Halfpenny was the home hero and the same man was gifted three simple penalties between four and 22 minutes to give his team a handy lead. When George North’s scored on the half hour, his try owed as much to Scottish defensive frailties as anything else, Wales were 14-3 ahead and motoring.
“I think the atmosphere for a few players was brand new and maybe they took a while to realise this was just another game,” mused Gregor Townsend in the aftermath. “Someone like Adam (Hastings) had not played here before.
“We were a little bit on the back foot in that first 20 minutes. To give them a nine-point start with not having fired any shots was disappointing. We then started to step up in defence, with Ryan Wilson leading the way on a couple of occasions, Stuart McInally, Jonny Gray. You could see the confidence start to come through, but those nine points were a big factor in the final score.”
The Scots could have folded as happened in February but instead they took full advantage of the hosts flagging as the match went on after being flogged all week by the conditioning coaches. Following Jon Davies’s second try for Wales, seven minutes after the interval, the Scots picked themselves off the canvas and finally started throwing some punches even though far too few of them found their mark.
“I feel like we did create a lot of opportunities,” said Scottish lock Ben Toolis. “We had two tries disallowed in the second half. On a different day, we could easily have got back into the game. There were also two or three other opportunities that got away from us as well.
“But Wales have a great defensive system and they showed it. They put us under pressure, but we’ll learn from that and look to bounce back against Fiji.”
The TMO wiped two tries off Scotland’s final score and his judgment was incontestable in the case of Jonny Gray who showed a little impatience, wriggling the ball over the line when he would have been better advised to recycle. The call against Peter Horne was more controversial. We have seen them given as often as not.
Townsend alluded to two other clear opportunities and he was probably talking about one flowing attack on 67 minutes when Lee Jones collected a loose kick and his offload out of the tackle sparked some rare continuity in the backs. Hastings, Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar and George Horne all carried with conviction until the latter was unable to feed the supporting Hamish Watson.
Two minutes from time Hastings threaded a canny kick behind the Welsh defence and Lee Jones would have given Halfpenny a run for his money had it stayed in the field of play instead of rolling into touch.
What Townsend did not mention was the six kickable penalties that Scotland were awarded in Welsh territory during the second half, that they either kicked to touch, opted to scrum or, in one case, George Horne tapped and ran. In a game that always looked like being close the Scots needed kickable points rather than going for broke.
“We need to be more consistent,” Toolis added. “We need to pick up our accuracy and not allow errors to put us on the back foot with easy turnovers. We gave the ball back too easily, so we need to be more efficient with how we hold on to it. “Cardiff is a tough place to play and we showed glimpses of our play and what we can do. We will look at things during the week, what we did well and what we did badly. We’re confident that we can move forward.”
The Scots now face Fiji who will arrive at BT Murrayfield in the knowledge that they triumphed the last time these two teams met in the summer of 2017.