Scotland endured a terrible ending to their RBS 6 Nations Championship campaign as, reduced to 14 men from the 22nd minute, they conceded a total of seven tries to a rampant Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff today.
The dismissal of full-back Stuart Hogg for a challenge on Dan Biggar was the pivotal moment of the contest, Hogg becoming the third Scot in the 143-year history of the international game to be sent off. Nathan Hines (2002 v USA) and Scott Murray (2206 v Wales) were his predecessors.
The strike power and potency in the Wales back three – 26 tries before today – has proved a handful for some of the best defences in world rugby when at full complement.
Amid contrition from Hogg – he apologised to both Dan Biggar and referee Jerome Garces – there was a feeling among his team-mates, however, that they did not reorganise quickly enough following his departure, especially in conceding five tries in a 20 minute spell either side of half-time.
Head coach Scott Johnson did consider withdrawing a forward to put on an additional back, but that deliberation was clearly influenced as Scotland had lost captain Kelly Brown with a head knock as early as the eighth minute.
It spoke volumes for the loyalty of the Scotland support that they gave a rousing rendition of “Flower of Scotland” during the second-half where the Scotland scrummage stood firm and they pressed repeatedly for a 15minutes plus spell in the Welsh 22.
Penalties were coughed up liberally by Wales during that period but Scotland could not breach their defence in spite of trying from both scrum and close-range lineout.
Looking at the Championship as a whole, the win in Italy was only Scotland’s third there since the Six Nations was created 14 years ago, while the loss to France at Murrayfield having been in a winning position will stick in the gullet for some considerable time.
The players, including Kelly Brown, do believe some progress has been made during the championship but are acutely conscious that supporters want to see that progress manifest itself on the scoreboard and the pain of defeat today left many of the squad inconsolable and shattered.
Brown and his senior lieutenants say morale will not be dented irreparably as a result of today’s loss and believe that the key to that is each player taking individual responsibility to improve his performance and ensuring that when the squad reconvenes for the summer tour to USA, Canada, Argentina and South Africa, that they do not have to retrace steps through the quagmire of today.
Wales – Tries: Liam Williams, George North (2), Jamie Roberts (2), Toby Faletau and Rhodri Williams. Conversions: Dan Biggar (4) and James Hook. Penalties: Biggar (2)
Scotland – Penalty – Greig Laidlaw
Wales: Liam Williams; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Ken Owens, Rhodri Jones, Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton captain, Toby Faletau. Subs: Rhodri Williams for Phillips and Justin Tipuric for Lydiate (both 55 mins), Adam Jones for Jones, Richard Hibbard for Owens and Paul James for Jenkins (all 58 mins), James Hook for Liam Williams, Jake Ball for Charteris and Rhys Priestland for Biggar (all 63 mins).
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); Dougie Fife (Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Max Evans (Castres); Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby); Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Gray (Castres), Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors), Kelly Brown (Saracens) captain, David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby).
Subs: Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors) for Cross (40 mins), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) for Lawson and Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) for Grant (both 45 mins), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) for Hamilton (54 mins), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) for Laidlaw (61 mins) and Duncan Taylor (Saracens) for Fife (66 mins). Unused: Jack Cuthbert (Edinburgh Rugby).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)