Wales issue warning to title rivals
February 8, 2009
Shane Williams touched down for his 46th Test try during his side's victory at Murrayfield © Getty Images
Wales sounded out a formidable warning to their Six Nations title rivals with a clear statement of intent on their way to a 26-13 victory against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Warren Gatland's side picked up where they left off in 2008 with an impressive display featuring the pace, power and invention that carried them to glory and acclaim throughout last year. They dominated up front and delivered a lesson in how to secure quick, clean ball while their potent backline wreaked havoc and stretched a brave and disciplined Scotland defence.
This game was surely Wales' to lose and although the scoreline would suggest something akin to a contest there was only one side in this match for the majority of its duration. Scotland defended bravely but they were never going to hold against a hungry Welsh side and the hosts only came back into the match when their visitors eased off the accelerator.
Wales centre Jamie Roberts, who many would not have seen since he fractured his skull quite literally going head-to-head with Australia's Stirling Mortlock in November, picked up Man of the Match honours with an accomplished display. The Scotland defence could not shackle him and any hopes Frank Hadden may have had that Graeme Morrison could contain him soon vanished as he consistently crossed the gain line.
Gatland has tipped the Blues centre for big things and today's performance is surely the latest step on his path to the top of the game. But he was not the only one to catch the eye.
So many positive headlines have been written about the Shane Williams that you could be forgiven for taking the pocket-rocket for granted. Despite being a heavily-marked man every time he comes onto the field he still manages to deliver just as he did with his 45th Test try. There is no substitute for pace.
Similarly, fullback Lee Byrne continues to cement his reputation as one of the best players in the world. Even a heavy crack to the head on the freezing Murrayfield turf could not slow him down for long. Another assured display including some trademark line breaks and acrobatic high-ball claims underlined his worth to Wales and surely the Lions.
In man-mountain Andy Powell Wales have another trump card. Whether it is off the back of the scrum, in broken play, or even in the centres where he cropped up in the latter stages of today's game, Powell poses a physical and tactically-astute threat.
Wales know when to keep it tight and when to spread it wide and when presented that simply the game appears easy. But it only works when you have the personnel to exploit both options effectively - and that is something Gatland is blessed with.
Scotland were industrious throughout but they just did not have the capacity to unlock Wales. They suffered for a lack of strength and pace and too often they started well behind the gain line and hardly made an impression beyond it.
There were some bright spots for the Scots when they were allowed a toe-hold in the game and the most notable of those was the contribution of Glasgow wing Max Evans. A player of genuine speed, he left Williams grasping before sidestepping Byrne to claim a memorable score. That kind of threat was something sadly lacking from the Scots for much of the game so don't be surprised if he is handed a start against France in Paris next weekend, with his brother Thom also summoned to join him.
They face a daunting task at the Stade de France next weekend where they will face a French side quickly finding their feet judging by yesterday's showing against Ireland. Already the visit of Italy to Murrayfield on February 28 is looking like the key clash to define their season.
Gatland pinpointed some areas of concern following the game but surely the clever Kiwi will just be finessing his side ahead of their next fixture? The Wales boss has good reason to be quietly confident ahead of England's to Cardiff next weekend. This was an impressive display that will have been exciting for Gatland and equally daunting for his England counterpart Martin Johnson.
What the likes of England and Wales' more likely title rivals Ireland and France should take note of is that there is quite clearly more to come from the defending champions.