Wales consolidated their position at the top of the Six Nations standings courtesy of a hard-fought 18-11 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
In an attritional affair, characterised by several massive hits and constant physicality, both sides deserve plenty of credit for making this the entertaining spectacle that it was and the result was in the balance until the game’s closing stages.
If truth be told, this was a game of two halves with Wales dominating proceedings during the opening stanza but a different Scotland came out of the changing room and dominated the second half.
But in the end, Wales held on for the win – their 13th successive one – and will play for the Grand Slam against Ireland in Cardiff next weekend.
The match started at a frenetic pace and Scotland eventually opened the scoring in the 11th minute courtesy of a Finn Russell penalty after Josh Navidi infringed at a lineout.
That lead did not last long as two minutes later, Wales struck back with a superb try. This, after Jonathan Davies got a pass out to Josh Adams down the left-hand and, although the flyer still had plenty of work to do, he did brilliantly to beat Blair Kinghorn with deft footwork before crossing the whitewash.
Gareth Anscombe slotted the conversion but Scotland were soon on the attack deep inside the visitors’ half thanks to a mazy run from Darcy Graham in which he beat five defenders.
Despite Graham’s brilliance on attack, Scotland were not rewarded with a try but had to settle for another penalty from Russell which meant the match was evenly poised with Wales holding a slender 7-6 lead.
The game’s intensity levels were incredibly high and Scotland came off second best in most of the collisions. They lost Jamie Ritchie to a HIA, although he later returned to the field, while Tommy Seymour was forced off with a rib injury and Blair Kinghorn hobbled off with an ankle knock – all by the half-hour mark.
Ritchie was replaced by Hamish Watson but he too had to leave the field with a blood injury with back-up hooker Fraser Brown Brown taking his place while Wales also lost the services of Adam Beard to a HIA.
Wales continued to control the pace of the game as the half progressed and Anscombe added another penalty in the 25th minute to give his side four-point lead. And on the half-hour mark, Jonathan Davies crossed for their second try after the ball was taken through 24 phases with Hadleigh Parkes and George North particularly impressive with strong carries in the build-up.
Anscombe converted which gave his side a 15-6 lead and, although there were more pointscoring opportunities for the visitors during the half’s closing stages, they would not add to their tally.
Scotland upped the ante on attack after the restart but, despite several forays into Wales territory during the first 15 minutes of the half, they did not score any points during that period.
The dam wall eventually burst in the 58th minute when Graham went over for a well-worked try. Russell did brilliantly when he threw an inside pass to Byron McGuigan, after a lineout just inside Wales’ 22. Although McGuigan still had work to do, he did well to offload to Adam Hastings, who got a pass out to Graham and the winger went over in the right-hand corner.
Russell’s conversion attempt was off target which meant Wales were leading 15-11 but, despite that miss, they were back in the game and continued to attack.
That tactic nearly backfired when, shortly afterwards, Hastings lost possession inside Wales’ half. Adams booted the ball upfield but, although he regathered, the bounce of the ball forced him wide deep inside Scotland’s 22 and there was no reward for the visitors from that attack.
Scotland launched several further attacks inside Wales’ half over the next 15 minutes but a combination of unforced errors and solid defence from the Welsh kept them at bay.
Wales eventually found themselves on the attack inside Scotland’s 22 during the game’s closing stages and a breakdown infringement from the hosts allowed Anscombe to slot his second penalty which sealed his side’s win.
Pens: Russell 2
Tries: Adams, J Davies
Pens: Anscombe 2