Scotland 18 Wales 28
WALES have started developing a habit of winning ugly and there wasn’t much for the aesthete to savour in an unsightly game of rugby – but the visitors won’t care a jot after another hard fought triumph on the road.
This afternoon saw reigning champions Wales set a record of five successive away victories in the Six Nations for the first time in their history.
It also stretched Wales’ victories over Scotland to six in a row and ten in the last 11 as they continue to be the hosts’ bogey side.
Defence coach Shaun Edwards will be delighted in particular as Wales saw out their third encounter on the trot without conceding a try.
As a spectacle it was a bitterly disappointing affair although the weather probably had a lot to do with it.
Wales dominated the match but it wasn’t until the closing stages that they made it safe.
The first half, on a horrible and blustery afternoon in Edinburgh that was bitterly cold, saw them fail to convert their monopoly of territory and possession into points as they led just 13-12 at the interval.
Full back Leigh Halfpenny, normally so reliable, missed three shots at goal in the opening 40, although some of them were tricky attempts, and succeeded with only two penalties.
Scotland scrum half Greig Laidlaw in contrast was proving to be deadly accurate with his kicks, nailing four from four as the home side’s silent assassins kept themselves in the game.
Wales wing George North was guilty of butchering a gilt edged chance after making a fine break when he ignored his support players, choosing to go for glory.
He was caught short of the line but burly blond hooker Richard Hibbard bulldozered over several phases later for a try, his first international touchdown, converted handsomely by Halfpenny from near the touchline.
Some cute play by the hosts’ fly half Duncan Weir with a delicate grubber and chase forced opposite number Dan Biggar to concede a scrum five after being forced to touch down over his line.
But South African referee Craig Joubert penalised them from the ensuing set piece and Wales were off the hook.
Wales began the second half, as they started the first, in total command, and their forwards made the hard yards which saw the Scots concede and a simple Halfpenny penalty made it 16-12 to the visitors in the 47th minute.
Wales were rocked by the loss of captain and blindside Ryan Jones soon after, replaced by Justin Tipuric who went on the openside while Sam Warburton went to the number six position.
Laidlaw’s fifth penalty brought the home side back within a point but Wales started putting the squeeze on the Scots and their clear edge in the scrum saw a 55th minute penalty awarded which Halfpenny again slotted.
The superb Warburton earned Wales another penalty minutes later which Halfpenny magnificently pinged to give his side a seven-point buffer.
But the visitors conceded a penalty of their own from the restart and Laidlaw put over his sixth kick of the afternoon.
He missed a dolly in the 64th minute however and the previously cagy game started to finally open up in the last quarter.
Wales hammered away at the hosts’ line but found it hard to kick in the door, the visitors having to leave their 22 again with another Halfpenny penalty instead of at least five points.
The visiting scrum were starting to mangle the Scots and a penalty conceded by their front row was again brilliantly slotted over from long range by Halfpenny who had found his kicking boots as he gave his side a ten-point cushion, ending the game with 23 points from seven penalties and a conversion.
Scotland only really came awake in the dying minutes when the game was up and although they battered the Welsh line, they couldn’t score a try despite loosehead Paul James being yellow carded.
The 13 penalties kicked is another Six Nations record in a game that was historic in many ways but eminently forgettable.
But the outside chance of retaining their title, however slim, and the prospect of crashing an England Grand Slam party in Cardiff on Saturday are still on.
Scotland: S Hogg, S Maitland, S Lamont, M Scott, T Visser, D Weir (R Jackson 79), G Laidlaw, R Grant, R Ford, E Murray (G Cross 76), R Gray (A Kellock 29), J Hamilton, R Harley, K Brown, J Beattie (R Wilson 68).
Replacements: D Hall, M Low, H Pyrgos, M Evans.
Scorers: Penalties – G Laidlaw (6)
Wales: L Halfpenny, A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts (S Williams 74), G North, D Biggar, M Phillips (L Williams 74), P James, R Hibbard (K Owens 61), A Jones, A W Jones, I Evans, R Jones (captain) (J Tipuric 47), S Warburton, T Faletau (R Bevington 79).
Replacements: S Andrews, A Coombs, J Hook.
Scorers: Try – Richard Hibbard, Conversion – Leigh Halfpenny, Penalties – L Halfpenny (7)
Argus star man: Sam Warburton
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)