Scotland win in Wales for the first time in 18 years
It wasn’t pretty but that hardly mattered. Scotland earned a thoroughly deserved victory on Welsh soil for the first time in 18 years to end the 2020 Six Nations on a high.
The 14-10 triumph in Llanelli was the Scots’ third win in a row in the Championship, the first time they have achieved this feat since the tournament was expanded to six teams.
Discounting results in Italy, it was also Scotland’s first away win in the Six Nations since 2010.
Lions coach Warren Gatland had questioned the mental toughness of Gregor Townsend’s players and challenged them to show they could win on the road if they wanted to be considered for next year’s tour of South Africa. They responded with a steely determination and it was Gatland’s former charges who were left to sift through the wreckage of a campaign that has seen them go from Grand Slam champions last season to a fifth-place finish under his successor, Wayne Pivac. Wales won their opener against Italy but have lost the four that followed.
Scotland’s forwards were excellent in difficult conditions. Jamie Ritchie epitomised the workrate and determination but it was substitute hooker Stuart McInally who got the all-important try which turned the game Scotland’s way midway through the second half.
Injuries meant Scotland had to change and adapt and they had three different stand-offs over the course of the game which finished with Stuart Hogg in the fly-half’s role.
Hogg kicked a penalty with the final play of the game after his predecessors at No 10, Finn Russell and Adam Hastings, had also converted three-pointers in the first half.
For Wales, a first-half try from Rhys Carre, converted by Dan Biggar, and a penalty from Leigh Halfpenny was all they could muster.
It was hoped the different venue could spark a change of fortunes for Scotland in Wales and they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the early stages.
They were offered the chance of a first-minute breakthrough when Liam Williams was penalised for coming in from the side but Russell’s penalty attempt drifted wide in the swirling wind.
The conditions were horrible and causing havoc for the hookers at the lineout.
Trying to judge high balls was also tricky and Scotland were the unwitting beneficiaries when an up and under from Hogg wobbled in the air.
Darcy Graham misjudged it but so too did Ryan Elias and the Welshman was punished for going offside. Russell was straight and true this time, kicking the penalty from around 40 metres to give Scotland a 3-0 lead.
The stand-off, making his first start for the national side in over a year, was starting to feel his way into the game but failed to gather a little chip through to himself as he tried to spark a Scotland attack.
The visitors were looking the most likely and it seemed that they might make the breakthrough after a lovely inside run from Hogg. Chris Harris played a smart one-two with the full-back but the Scotland centre fumbled at the key moment while under pressure from Dan Biggar.
To say the conditions were not conducive to flowing rugby would be putting it mildly and Hogg was struggling with his kicking game in the wind and rain. One up and under went straight to Welsh hands and they made Scotland pay.
The ball was kicked for touch, close to the visitors’ line, and the subsequent lineout was a disaster for Scotland. Fraser Brown went long with the throw but it eluded Jonny Gray at the back and Elias was able to gather and surge for the line.
He was held up but Wales turned the screw. It was the first time they’d been in the Scotland 22 and they made the most of it, with prop Carre able to force his way over for the opening try. Biggar converted to put Wales 7-3 ahead.
In a double blow for Scotland, Russell was injured during the desperate defensive effort and limped off to be replaced by Hastings.
Wales had their tails up and found themselves back into Scottish territory almost immediately. This was a key moment and a real test of character for Townsend’s side. Ritchie proved up to the task, winning a brilliant turnover to win a penalty and relieve the pressure.
Scotland made the most of it, and a neat juggle by Blair Kinghorn saw Scotland make the break and win a penalty which Hastings converted to reduce the leeway at the interval to a single point.
The replacement stand-off had slotted in well but appeared to damage his shoulder in a tackle early in the second half. He soldiered on and continued to probe as Scotland began to regain their foothold in the game.
The Scots had used the driving lineout maul to good effect against Georgia last week and the same tactic provided the breakthrough midway through the second half.
McInally, on for Brown, started and finished the move. His lineout throw was won by Gray who set up the maul. The backs joined the surge and it was the Edinburgh hooker who was forced over the line for his tenth try for Scotland.
Hastings missed the relatively simple conversion but the Scots now had an 11-7 lead going into the final quarter.
Halfpenny reduced the advantage to a single point with a penalty after Hogg was guilty of not releasing.
The substitutes were coming on thick and fast and Scott Steele replaced the injured Hastings with 11 minutes remaining to make his international debut. It meant a major reshuffle in the Scotland backline, with Hogg taking over at stand-off, scrum-half Steele slotting in on the wing and Kinghorn moving to full-back.
They all did their jobs with aplomb and when Ritchie secured yet another turnover in the dying minutes the game was won. Captain Hogg kicked the penalty to lead Scotland to a landmark victory and cast aside the monkey that had been on their back for 18 long years.
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