Scotland snatch late win in Cardiff
April 6, 2002
Gregor Townsend takes on Rhys Williams during a bitty match in Cardiff
© Getty Images
New Wales coach Steve Hansen saw his reign begin with a defeat as Scotland snatched a late victory in a scrappy Lloyds TSB Six Nations finale at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.
Hooker Gordon Bulloch powered over for two first-half tries and Hansen's fellow New Zealander Brendan Laney kicked 14 points to ensure Scotland finished fourth in the championship ahead of Wales.
Outside-half Stephen Jones marked his comeback from injury with a 17-point haul while wing Rhys Williams scored a try but it was not enough to give Welsh scrum-half Rob Howley a winning send-off to his international career.
Howley was given a standing ovation by the 74,000 crowd when he left the field 14 minutes from the end, justifiably so given his illustrious displays during a 59-cap career when he has been one of the few Welsh players that earned the term world-class.
The game was also the last championship match as a commentator for Bill McLaren, but there was little - despite the constant change of leads and exciting climax - for his mellifluous tones to enthuse over in 80 error-strewn minutes.
McLaren though could only have laughed at the Keystone Cops nature of the Welsh line-out as neither Barry Williams then Robin McBryde could find their man.
This would have been a classic wooden spoon encounter in the old days of the Five Nations before the arrival of whipping-boys Italy who had provided both teams with their only victory before their meeting.
The defeat leaves Hansen knowing the task that is ahead of him as Wales's ninth coach in the last 13 years begins the latest attempt to restore the country's battered rugby respectability.
Hansen will now wait for tomorrow's EGM of the Welsh Rugby Union's 200-plus membership which will debate a plan to reduce the number of professional teams from nine to six, a proposal which it is claimed will lead to improve playing standards.
Whatever happens is unlikely to satisfy the organisers of the 'Ruck The WRU' website-based protest which extended their campaign against the governing body yesterday by handing in a 5,000-signature petition at the union's offices.
The internal politicking would have been of little interest to Hansen today as he looked for a winning start to his reign as coach having been caretaker for the past three matches after taking over from fellow Kiwi Graham Henry.
Hansen could not have asked for as better start as outside-half Stephen Jones, back after missing the hammering by England through injury, landed three penalties inside the first 17 minutes to give his side a 9-0 lead.
Wales could have been further ahead with scrum-half Rob Howley producing one of his trademark breaks as early as the fourth minute. But the 31-year-old lacked the pace to finish the move off and mark his international bow with a try.
But Scotland, who missed a rare early opportunity when Gregor Townsend fumbled a pass, suddenly found their attacking venom after the record-breaking outside-half spurned a kickable penalty to find touch right on the Welsh line.
The Scots kept possession and drove forward with Bulloch eventually awarded the 31st-minute try on the verdict of the French video referee Didier Mene, though it was a tight decision.
There was no doubting Bulloch's second score seven minutes later after Townsend, winning a record 66th cap, had sent another penalty arrowing towards the Welsh try-line.
Wales were sent backpeddling by the rolling Scottish pack before Bulloch popped up in the corner to double his try count for the afternoon and for his international career.
Edinburgh Rugby's Laney landed the conversion then added a penalty with the last kick of the first half to give his side a 15-9 lead at the interval.
Hansen responded with a rash of replacements just minutes after the break and saw the move instantly pay dividends after Scotland crucially lost possession 35m out from their own line.
Iestyn Harris, on at centre for Andy Marinos having lost the half-back berth with Jones regaining fitness, was involved in the initial attack.
Then after again being handed the ball, the rugby league convert produced the incisive break that was a hallmark of his Leeds Rhinos days before finding club-mate Rhys Williams who exploited the space to grab his fourth try for Wales.
Jones added the conversion to give Wales the lead again, although by just one point, and on the hour the visitors were back in front thanks to another Laney penalty.
But Jones maintained his perfect afternoon by stroking over a 30m penalty just a couple of minutes later only for Laney to regain the advantage for the visitors soon after.
The Llanelli points machine looked to have snatched victory for his side when he kicked his fifth penalty with just a couple of minute left to give Wales a 22-21 victory.
But Scotland responded and Laney gave Scotland back the lead two minutes into injury-time before limping off to be replaced by Duncan Hodge, who coolly slotted over the winner after Wales had again infringed in front of their own posts.
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales were just 13 minutes from a famous victory, but the lessons to be learned in defeat are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards
Ahead of England's clash with Samoa, Scrum Sevens takes a wander down memory lane and celebrates seven examples of Pacific Islands magic
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery