AFTER achieving the supposedly impossible by winning at Twickenham last week, Scotland found against Wales that managing the merely difficult was beyond them. They were the better team by some margin for much of this long-to-be-remembered match, but unlike against England they were not the better team when it mattered most.

The second-half dismissal of Zander Fagerson for a dangerous clear-out was undoubtedly a major factor in the defeat, but so too was the spirit and intelligence shown by Wales. At 17-3 down late in the first half, they were second best by some way and simply looked befuddled by the Scotland backs’ magic. But they scored a morale-boosting try just before the break, and had come right back into the contest even before the home team were reduced to 14 men.

In Louis Rees-Zammit they also had not only the player of the match, but someone who is shaping up to be the star of the tournament. The Welsh still face an uphill battle if they are to claim the Six Nations title despite this second win in a row, but if they do get there, they will surely have the winger to thank more than anyone. The cool way in which he finished for his first try was commendable enough: the aplomb with which he both created and then scored his second was simply world-class.

Stuart Hogg scored two tries as well, and if the full-back had been able to score a third in stoppage time from a Duhan van der Merwe break, he would have outshone the 20-year-old Welshman. But it was not to be, leaving Scotland to look back on a match which they could have put to bed while they still had 15 men on the field.

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The snow had stopped by the time kick-off arrived, but it remained bitterly cold, and windier than earlier in the week. That was one difference from the relatively clement conditions of the first-round match in London, and another was the indiscipline shown by the Scots in the early exchanges: they gave away three penalties in the first five minutes compared to six in the whole of the Calcutta Cup clash.

Leigh Halfpenny opened the scoring from the third offence, but Finn Russell soon steadied the ship with a Scotland penalty. The home pack was disrupted by an injury which ended Blade Thomson’s afternoon, but once Gary Graham came on things settled down and Scotland took control of the game. 

The first try began when Jonny Gray made good ground, but was all about the combination between Ali Price and Darcy Graham. The scrum-half dinked a high ball through for the winger to collect, and Halfpenny was unable to put an arm on Graham as he swerved his way to the line.

Russell converted to put his team 10-3 ahead, and it was not long before he added the two points from another Scotland try. Hogg chipped and chased from a little bit beyond the Wales 10m line, and Halfpenny’s spill as he slid in allowed the full-back to collect and dot down.

At that point Scotland’s creative variety was far superior to anything Wales had tried, never mind carried off, but any notion that the one-traffic would continue throughout the game was dispelled when Rees-Zammit scored an unconverted try two minutes before the break. A lineout maul set up the platform, then a left-to-right move in which Nick Tompkins put in a vital pass on the spin was finished off by the winger. 

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Scotland needed the first score of the second half to re-establish their dominance, and they thought they had got it after 48 minutes. A penalty close to the Welsh line would have yielded an easy three points, but they opted to tap and go through George Turner. A series of phases took them closer and closer to goal, but when Gary Graham crossed, the score was denied as Scott Cummings had been in front of him as a blocker.

Being thwarted then could have turned out to be of little account, but two minutes later Wales struck again, through Liam Williams this time after the new half-back combination of Callum Sheedy and Kieran Hardy had worked well. Sheedy’s conversion closed the score to 17-15, and the sense of momentum swing soon deepened when Fagerson was shown the red card when his shoulder made contact with Wyn Jones’s head. The decision may have been marginal, but by the letter of the law it seemed correct. The tighthead will now probably miss some if not all of his team’s remaining matches, starting with France a fortnight today.  

Wyn Jones then finished off from a maul to claim his team’s third try of the day, and that put his team 17-20 ahead. Sheedy failed to convert, and going into the final quarter Scotland went about regaining their lead in composed fashion. This time when awarded penalties in front of the posts they went for the scrum, and eventually Hogg crossed for his second try, fending off both Welsh centres before touching down in the right corner. 

Russell’s conversion stretched the home lead to a precarious 24-20, and almost immediately Wales threatened again, with Hogg just beating Rees-Zammit to touch down a kick by Sheedy behind the Scotland line. The winger was not to be denied, however, and with ten minutes to go he pulled off a score worthy of winning any game, kicking ahead then collecting to touch down and put his team a point ahead. Sheedy’s missed conversion gave Scotland a glimmer of hope, but the Welsh defence held on.