Positive Wales underway with win
February 14, 2004
Rhys Williams is congratulated after crossing to score
© Getty Images
Wales continued where they had left off in the World Cup, but with the vital difference that this time they won.
It would be a mistake yet to assume that this presages a Welsh title challenge - the in-transition Scots are perhaps the weakest team in this year's competition, and next week's trip to Dublin will be a more serious test of Wales's new stature. But you can only play the opposition you have given. Fears that the vivacity shown in World Cup matches when there was no expectation of winning would evaporate under the pressures of being expected to win in front of a demanding Cardiff crowd were put firmly to rest.
There was encouragement not only in conclusive proof that the dash and style, once second-nature, that had disappeared from the Welsh game has now returned, but in the less eye-catching parts of the game. Wales had the edge in the scrums, taking one against the head and in the loose where they denied the Scots continuity. They also defended with composure and commitment, withstanding long periods of Scottish pressure when, with the match won, they might have lost concentration, only conceding to Simon Taylor, driving unstoppably from close-range after a long injury-time siege
Welsh intent was clear from the kick-off, which was caught and run straight back at the Scots. Within the first 60 seconds wing Shane Williams was being brought in at first receiver as Wales attacked from a ruck, and within three minutes came the reward.
Centre Iestyn Thomas made a half-break, found ever-opportunistic full-back Gareth Thomas coming with perfect timing into the line, flanker Martyn Williams carried on and wing Rhys Williams was over in the corner.
But Scotland too came with positive intent, carrying their own assault into Welsh territory and opting to take the points as new skipper Chris Paterson dropped a goal. This, though, was a rare thrust against the Welsh tide. On 15 minutes Rhys Williams was the creator rather than scorer, twice involved in a devastating crossfield assault that took play from right to left, involved both Thomas and Martyn Williams, and sucked in so many defenders that Wales were left with a double overlap made up of the shaggy-haired props Duncan and Adam Jones. Adam made the touchdown.
If anything was saving Scotland at this stage it was that Welsh outside-half Stephen Jones had lost his way with the boot, missing a straightforward penalty chance and one of the two conversions.
But while there were no further Welsh tries before half-time - a spectacular 80-yard counter-attack culminating in what looked to be Thomas's Wales-record-equalling 34th try was ruled out for crossing - Jones at least found his range with two penalties to give Wales an 18-3 interval lead.
Nine minutes after the game was effectively won. While Simon Danielli's tackle denied Shane Williams on the left, it was a mere stay of execution as Scotland mystifyingly threw long on the line-out, lost possession and immediately came under pressure. Wales attacked rapidly to the left and Rhys Williams prevailed where Shane had not, stepping inside Danielli for his second try, converted by Jones.
A complete side might have gone on to really hammer the Scots, but Wales are still not the finished article. The mood inside Millennium Stadium, though, left little doubt that the reconstruction process is going very well.