Wales return to winning ways
February 12, 2011
Wales' Shane Williams is released by James Hook during the victory over Wales
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Wales ended their long wait for a victory with a hard-fought 24-6 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Having tasted defeat in seven of their previous eight Tests, and the ignominy of a home draw against Fiji, Wales dragged themselves across the finishing line thanks to a magnificent defensive performance and an opening 20 minutes that boasted both style and composure.
Shane Williams scored either side of half-time for the visitors, who held out for a crucial period just before the break with 13 men following the sin-binnings of lock Bradley Davies and fullback Lee Byrne. James Hook, restored at fly-half for the first time since March 2009, kicked 14 points and created the first try before Stephen Jones was introduced to steady the ship midway through the second-half.
Scotland, buoyed by their three tries in last weekend's loss to France, failed to click with ball in hand and rarely caused problems for a Welsh defence that offered none of the freedom seen at times in Paris. Dan Parks kicked their only points with two penalties and head coach Andy Robinson will doubtless have plenty to say to his men in the coming weeks.
The opening minutes passed with little incident, both sides happy to put boot to ball in greasy conditions, and familiar problems cropped up to hamper any attacking progress. Scotland coughed up possession after several tight phases while Wales squandered position with a turnover at an attacking lineout.
The visitors injected some life into the game with two big plays from their pack. Loose-head Paul James was on the scene quickly to charge down a Parks clearance and while Davies knocked on in following up, Wales ensured that Scotland's scrum horrors from Paris were not quickly forgotten by winning possession against the head.
Jonathan Davies and Byrne were prominent in straightening the line, a feature of Wales' play absent eight days ago against England, and Hook picked off a mismatch in midfield between prop Allan Jacobsen and Richie Vernon to send Williams scampering over under the posts - where he touched down to eclipse Willie Llewellyn's long-standing Welsh scoring record against the Scots.
Scotland again threatened with some tidy handling between Max Evans, Kelly Brown and Al Kellock following a turnover but a knock-on from Jacobsen again put Wales on the front-foot at a scrum. Jamie Roberts was sent hurtling through a Parks tackle and Scotland were immediately called up for offside, allowing Hook to take their lead out to 10 points after 13 minutes. Another three points quickly followed for Hook as Scotland were guilty of a ruck offence and the kick was good reward for a strong, composed period of play by the visiting tight forwards.
Scotland lost Hugo Southwell to a nasty facial injury soon after but the fullback was lucky to avoid a yellow card after taking Byrne out in the air. Wales capitalised again with another bullocking run from Roberts, which resulted in a further penalty to Hook's tally after 21 minutes.
As has been their wont in recent seasons, Wales quickly reached for the self-destruct button. Phillips was guilty of a terrible knock-on following a high ball from Nikki Walker and as Scotland followed up with a break by Sean Lamont, Davies could not resist a nibble at the ball on the floor. The Cardiff Blues lock was shown yellow but Scotland could not capitalise from the lineout, where an offload from Parks went to ground off Ross Ford.
Things spiralled for Wales as after seeing off the initial danger they were quickly reduced to 13 men as Byrne collared Evans high as the Glasgow wing raced along the flank. Scotland rumbled forward through a maul but lost their opportunity as Parks' cross-kick resulted in a Welsh penalty as Dan Lydiate pounced on an isolated Brown.
Parks did get Scotland on the board with a 31st minute penalty - one coughed up by Lydiate moments after he had relieved the immediate pressure. Another Parks cross-kick so nearly resulted in a try for the hosts as Lamont gathered but Wales scrambled well to deny an onrushing Joe Ansbro, who knocked on after picking an excellent angle.
Scotland failed to reduce the arrears further just before the break with Parks' second penalty - secured as a result of Ospreys tight-head Craig Mitchell slipping his bind - falling well short after a slip from the fly-half.
The hosts dominated possession after the restart but aside from a brief break by John Barclay the game was stuck in first gear, with both sides committing regular errors. Wales' scrum still functioned however and Hook was presented with a long-range effort after Euan Murray was called up. The fly-half's 49-metre effort was just wide.
Scotland rolled their sleeves up and got involved around the fringes, a tactic that paid off as their forwards drove on inch by inch. Wales stood firm through 15 phases before a frustrated Parks wasted his pack's good work with a cross-kick that was comfortably snaffled by Williams.
With replacement tight-head Moray Low on the pitch the Scottish scrum took a point back in that particular battle, Parks landing his second penalty after Paul James had been singled out by referee George Clancy. The home side then twice looked to have put Wales away, first with a Walker break that ignored a mismatch inside and secondly as Barclay managed to outflank the defence only to knock on.
Roberts almost snatched the momentum away from Scotland with an intercept try but the Cardiff midfielder was hauled down just inside the 22 by a backtracking Lamont, who complemented his excellent attacking shift with a fine tackle to save his side. Wales were awarded a penalty however and Hook added the three points seconds before being replaced by Jones.
The pendulum swung in Wales' favour with Williams' second try, which was again the product of a Scottish mistake. Walker forced an offload to Jacobsen and Sam Warburton pounced, securing the ball and sending Matthew Rees on a charge. Quick ball wide allowed Davies plenty of time to spot Lamont out of position in the line and with no fullback, Scotland were exposed as his kick ahead allowed Williams the easiest of run-ins.
With Wales comfortably ahead and Scotland devoid of ideas the final moments were played out at a snail's pace. Not that the men in red minded one bit.
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