Wales’ defence key to victory as Scots run into a brick wall
SCOTLAND 18 WALES 28
SCOTT Johnson hit the nail on the head when he claimed in the build-up to the clash with Wales that his old side had done nothing new in five years.
Unfortunately for the Australian coach of Scotland that includes maintaining their incredibly high defensive standards.
“Defence wins championships,” said Wales coach Shaun Edwards with a grin after Saturday’s 28-18 win in Edinburgh.
England's spluttering performance against Italy means that a seven-point victory against Stuart Lancaster's side on Saturday will ensure the Six Nations trophy remains in Cardiff.
It’s three away wins on the bounce and three defensive clean sheets on the spin with France, Italy and Scotland failing to make it over the whitewash.
Those successes have prompted grinning celebrations in the cities of Paris, Rome and Edinburgh for the travelling congregation, yet in some way Wales are a joyless team.
They reflect a curse of modern, safety-first Test rugby in the northern hemisphere where the fear of making errors is a more pressing concern than having a creative spark.
Wales are a side built to defend, with the bulky midfield partnership of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies ensuring that James Hook’s time away from Perpignan is achieving little other than making him appreciate the beauty and warmth of the South of France.
Rather than creating opportunities it’s about not gifting them away, and Wales’ defensive steel has got them back on track following their Irish nightmare on opening afternoon.
Defence may be the ugly side of the game but it does reveal a side’s character and Wales have bucketloads.
The game was won when Leigh Halfpenny booted over his 23rd point with nine minutes remaining, but there was still time for Scotland to lay siege to the Welsh line for the first time in the game.
But prop Adam Jones ripped the ball away from a lineout drive and inspirational skipper Sam Warburton led by example in repelling wave after wave of Scottish drives.
It will take a pretty special effort by Grand Slam-chasing England to break through at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, although Wales can ill-afford to give away quite so many penalties as they did in the perishing Scottish capital.
“I said at half-time there was going to be a time when we had to deliver, it came in the last five minutes,” said Edwards at Murrayfield.
“I’ve been pretty pleased with the defence since the first half against Ireland, which was pretty unlike us.
“We didn’t have too many tackles to make against Scotland but the percentage of turnovers to tackles was exceedingly high.
“Our post-tackle work was excellent and that goalline stand was everything that a defensive coach would want.”
It may have been a no-frills win but it was just what was required – and was also a notable one for interim coach Rob Howley.
He made two big calls by putting openside Warburton and lock Alun Wyn Jones back in the line-up and the pair proved him to be a shrewd judge.
They were the standout players on the pitch, Warburton making Scotland’s life hell at the breakdown and Jones playing with forcefulness and class.
The second-row forward may not have expected to play the full 80 minutes – and it was a shame to see Newport Gwent Dragons lock Andrew Coombs taste his first frustration as a Test player when standing on the sideline in his coat as an unused replacement – but Jones and Ian Evans formed a superb partnership.
They were part of a tight five that had the better of a turgid Scotland, who were left cursing their shortcomings at the set piece.
The game was dominated by the whistle of South African official Craig Joubert, who awarded a total of 28 penalties.
The capacity 67,144 crowd spent nearly a quarter of the game shivering in their seats watching Greig Laidlaw and Leigh Halfpenny lining up 19 shots at goal.
Surprisingly the Wales full-back missed three on the bounce in the first half but it didn’t prove costly.
He booted seven penalties to Greig Laidlaw’s six, while he also converted the only try of the game when hooker Richard Hibbard barged over after 21 minutes for his first international score.
It was the only five points that didn’t come from a kicking tee but Wales got the job done even if it wasn’t the best viewing spectacle.
And there won’t be many complaints from the Millennium Stadium stands if it’s the same again when England visit on Saturday.
Scotland: S Hogg, S Maitland, S Lamont, M Scott, T Visser, D Weir (R Jackson 78), 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)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)