For 60 minutes at Murrayfield Wales were totally dominant and playing some of the best rugby I have seen from them in ages. The fact that the scoreline was only 13-26 is due partly to some woeful place kicking from the Welsh, and partly due to wholesale substitutions on 60 minutes that caused the team to take their eye off the ball rather, and let the Scots back into the game. It could easily have been a massacre. More analysis follows..
There was plenty to applaud in the Welsh performance. Jamie Roberts was awesome going forward. His runs reminded me of the way that Jonah Lomu would just charge through the opposition carrying two or three tacklers along with him. Matthew Rees put in an incredible amount of work because he always seemed to be there at the breakdown. Lee Byrne took some magnificent running lines, and Halfpenny showed that he’s become just as lethal a finisher as Shane Williams. The loss of Ryan Jones to an injury just before the game didn’t seem to upset the team at all, and the speed of recycling from the ruck was a joy to behold. The scum completely destroyed the Scots on several occasions.
On the downside, the place kicking was awful. The lineout still needs a bit of work. And we can’t afford to lose focus late on like that against Ireland or France. But for a first game, against a fairly dangerous opponent, we made a very encouraging start.
As for the Scots, I thought there was quite a bit to be encouraged about. Their scrum will be better when they get the injured players back. Their offloading was often very good. And in Max Evans they seem to have discovered a player of real class. If, as the commentators have been suggesting, his brother Tom is just as good, the Scots could have a very dangerous back line in the making.
One thing the Scots do need to learn is not to lead with their heads when making a tackle. Not only is it dangerous, it is also illegal. In the first half they lost two players to injury from reckless tackling (with one of them getting a yellow card as well for dangerous play). Oddly enough, both Welsh players involved bounced up without a care in the world. Those boys are hard.
Finally one further word on the question of hands in the ruck. There were two very clear occasions where Alain Roland shouted “hands off blue” and the Scots did not respond, resulting in penalties for Wales. In contrast the Welsh team generally kept an ear open for the referee’s instructions and thereby avoided getting pinged, though they did get penalized for going off their feet a few times.