Wales power past Scotland
February 8, 2009
Wales centre Tom Shanklin touches down for his try at Murrayfield
© Getty Images
Wales produced an impressive first-up performance to defeat Scotland 26-13 in the opening game of their Six Nations title defence at Murrayfield.
Wales suffered an early setback before the game when their talismanic skipper Ryan Jones, so influential during last year's clean sweep, was ruled out after failing a fitness test on a calf-strain. Veteran openside Martyn Williams took the armband from Jones, while his place on the blindside flank was filled by Scarlets back-row Dafydd Jones.
Scotland themselves were without Northampton prop Euan Murray, ruled out with a rib injury, meaning that uncapped Edinburgh prop Geoff Cross stepped up for his first cap. The hulking presence of Perpignan lock Nathan Hines was also absent from the Scotland pack, his knee injury meaning an unfamiliar start in the second-row for Sale flanker Jason White.
With their metronomic kicker Chris Paterson relegated to the bench, Phil Godman took the Scottish kicking duties and looked to ignite a back-line that surprisingly did not include the in-form Thom and Max Evans, Simon Webster and Sean Lamont starting on the wings.
Following a stirring acapella verse of "Flower of Scotland", Scotland weighed in with a heavyweight first scrum despite being shorn of two of their main scrummaging options. Some good work from Cairns put some pace onto the ball early, and the Scottish backs broke several first-up tackles in an encouraging start.
Tom Shanklin injected some pace to settle a nervy start for Wales, bouncing through Ben Cairns' attempted tackle as the Welsh mounted their first meaningful attacks. Andy Powell then carried well before Shane Williams and Lee Byrne combined for an overlap, only for the ball to be knocked on as Byrne looked to offload.
Byrne looked to have taken a heavy knock to the head while attempting the offload, but any doubts over his fitness were immediately assuaged as he shredded the Scottish defence, arching upfield before good support saw Wales into the Scottish 22. Wales were penalised by referee Rolland, but their combinations were beginning to tick inside the opening quarter.
Following some sloppy play from Scotland, Wales again found themselves in possession as the ball went wide to stand-in captain Williams, only for Scotland wing Simon Webster to put in a flying hit. Webster looked to be unconscious for a time, but his decision was an excellent one as Williams knocked on with an overlap forming outside him.
Wales continued their dominant start by forcing a penalty at the scrum, swarming Scotland No.8 Simon Taylor before he was forced to hold on. Jones slotted the kick for a 3-0 lead.
Wales' early precision then deserted them and Scotland gathered more and more possession as the half progressed, but all they had to show for their increased efforts was a yellow card for the debutant Cross after he took out Byrne in the air. Cross took a heavy contact from Byrne's knee, and his international debut ended on a low as he was stretchered from the field.
Immediately after, Wales had their breakthrough. Following a sublime offload from Phillips, Wales' forwards sucked in the Scottish defence in midfield. With Leigh Halfpenny swapping wings and providing the extra man in attack, the ball found Tom Shanklin with the Scotland defence creaking and the Cardiff Blues centre bundled over for a superb team-score. Jones was wayward with his conversion.
With Scotland a man short, Wales soon landed a further blow. Following a knock on by Shanklin, the Welsh eight decimated the Scottish pack on their own ball and when the ball skewed out of the side of the scrum they pounced. Fly-half Jones carried well up the middle before Phillips found second-row Alun-Wyn Jones. Jones pivoted his giant frame through a Scottish tackle and scored the second try, although Jones was again awry with his kicking.
With Webster having departed following his earlier knock, it fell to Chris Paterson to get Scotland on the board. He stroked over a penalty just after half an hour following an infringement by Phillips. Scotland were then right back on the offensive as Southwell sent a spiralling kick deep into the Welsh 22. Rees again crumbled under pressure and Scotland rolled forward. Working off their first meaningful quick ball of the game, Scotland flew into the Welsh defence, with Paterson and Jim Hamilton combining to fall inches short of the try-line.
From the scrum however Wales produced a superb shove, reminiscent of their effort against France in the final game of last season's tournament, and No.8 Andy Powell emerged with the ball before bulldozing a path clear. With Scotland inches from a try on half-time, it was Wales who had the final say. Following some foolish play from the Scottish forwards, refusing to remove their hands from a ruck despite repeated warnings from Rolland, Stephen Jones stroked over a penalty for a 16-3 half-time lead.
Wales burst out of the traps in the second half, scoring their third try after only 40 seconds. A good run from Powell was followed by an incisive dart from Jamie Roberts, excellent all afternoon, before Dafydd Jones found Williams out wide. The usually deadly IRB World Player of the Year looked to have butchered his shot at the line, only to produce a wonderful pass out of the back of his hand for Halfpenny to crash over in the corner. Jones was again wide with the conversion.
Scotland's brittle confidence was exhibited across the park as Wales dominated possession and territory following the score. No matter the number of phases afforded the Scottish backs they failed to find any incision against a resolute Welsh defence, with handling errors littering their play as Wales looked increasingly unlikely to concede any ground.
They received a welcome break when Powell was pinged for slowing the ball down following an encouraging break from Taylor, with Paterson drawing the score to 21-6 as Scotland grabbed a foothold in the game as Wales' discipline began to slip. Regardless of their possession however, they struggled to mount any significant phase play with either poor handling or aggressive defence from Wales blunting their efforts.
Despite the renewed Scottish effort, Wales were not to be denied. Having strung together a myriad of phases, first Ian Gough and then Tom Shanklin went close to scoring. Martyn Williams was instrumental in keeping the ball alive as it was spread wide, with Phillips' final act in the match being to find Shane Williams out wide, and the diminutive wing was too quick for the Scotland defence.
Wales then lost their skipper as he was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on when Godman looked to launch a counter-attack. Scotland won a further penalty moments later, and Godman sent them deep into Wales territory. Following some patient phase play, including strong work from White, replacement Max Evans went through the tackle of Williams before expertly stepping inside Byrne to score his first try for Scotland.
With Paterson landing his conversion, Scotland required two tries while Wales were down to 14 men. With Wales employing Andy Powell in the centre following an injury to wing Williams, with lock Bradley Davies taking to the field as his replacement, Scotland finally threw in some penetrating flat passes. Their back-row kicked in to gear and began winning some much needed possession on the floor but following a wonderful pair of offloads from Godman and Evans there was a knock-on once again from Kelly Brown.
Scotland won a free-kick from the final scrum however, as Wales' discipline again slipped worryingly. Scotland ran through their most dangerous phases of possession as the clock ticked down, and a chip over the Wales defence saw Chris Paterson hare through. As Byrne stood flat footed the two players dived for the ball in goal. Paterson was adjudged to have knocked on, but from the resulting scrum Powell was pinged for holding on, leaving Scotland with a final throw of the dice.
From the lineout, Evans knocked on in midfield and Wales were left to celebrate an important first win as they head on the road to retaining their championship. Next stop the Millennium Stadium and Martin Johnson's England.
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); S Webster (Edinburgh), B Cairns (Edinburgh), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); P Godman (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh, capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), G Cross (Edinburgh), J White (Sale Sharks), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), A Hogg (Edinburgh), J Barclay (Glasgow), S Taylor (Stade Francais).
Replacements: D Hall (Glasgow), A Dickinson (Gloucester), K Brown (Glasgow), S Gray (Northampton), C Cusiter (Perpignan), C Paterson (Edinburgh), M Evans (Glasgow).
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Jones (Scarlets), M Williams (Cardiff Blues, capt), A Powell (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), B Davies (Blues), D Peel (Sale Sharks), J Hook (Ospreys), A Bishop (Ospreys).
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).
Assistant referees: Chris White (England) and Rob Debney (England).