Grand Theft Rugby

I’m sure it is very convenient for the Welsh Rugby Union to have sponsorship from Cardiff’s local brewery. However, I am concerned that all this talk of “Brains” around the team may have attracted the wrong sort of attention; beings for whom the word “Brains” does not suggest intelligence, or even beer, but rather food. Why do I think that? Well it is clear from today’s performance that while the Welsh team all have “Brains” written across their chests, they have none whatsoever in their heads.

Last weekend a few moments of stupidity cost Wales the game against England. This weekend the disease has spread, and we were witness to 74 minutes of the worst rugby I have seen from a Welsh side in a long time. Passes were dropped, penalties were given away, tackles were missed, the error count was phenomenal. Despite dominating territory, Wales went in at the half 18-9 behind.

To be fair to Scotland, they played with a lot more determination and enthusiasm than their counterparts. Their defense was really well organized, they thoroughly outplayed Wales in the ruck, and when they got chances they took some of them. Their first try was a gift – John Barclay just shrugging off a 2-on-1 tackle from Cooper and Hook to break through for a score. But the second try was a perfectly executed grubber kick by Dan Parks that Max Evans was able to covert because, as Parks was well aware, Lee Byrne had been dragged out of position.

With six minutes to play, Wales were 10 points behind, and down and out. They had battered the Scottish line for much of the second half and come away with only one try – a beautifully worked move into the corner by Shane Williams and Lee Byrne that Stephen Jones failed to convert. However, two new factors were about to come into play. Firstly the Scots were exhausted from continual defense. The final stats show show that Scotland had made 136 tackles to Wales’s 73, and Wales completed 227 passes to Scotland’s 103. And secondly the referee was finally losing patience with Scotland slowing the game down. They had collapsed pretty much every scrum in the game, and were starting to resort to illegal play in the ruck as well.

The turning point in the game came when Scott Lawson was sin-binned for yet another infraction in a ruck. Wales stormed forward, taking advantage of the extra man, and Leigh Halfpenny ran in for a try. Crucially he had the presence of mind to run around behind the posts to give Jones the easiest of conversions.

From the kick off, Wales attacked again, and Lee Bryne broke through the Scottish defense. Phil Goodman panicked, and tripped him up. Wales were awarded a penalty, which Jones converted to bring the teams level. Goodman was, of course, sin-binned, leaving Scotland with only 13 men on the pitch.

Time ran out as the players were lining up for the re-start, but in rugby a game cannot end until the ball goes dead, so the referee insisted on one final play. Mike Blair could have hoofed the ball out of play to settle for a draw, or even kicked short to give his team a chance to recover the ball, but instead he kicked long and Wales poured forward again. A couple of minutes later Shane Williams (who else) cut through the Scottish line for the winning try.

It was, I have to say, a total steal. For 74 minutes Scotland absolutely deserved to win that game. But from the moment Lawson was sin-binned Wales ran in 17 unanswered points. As Wales found out last week, you can’t win if you leak points like that.

Elsewhere on a bitterly cold day in Paris Ireland looked to get some revenge for their soccer world cup defeat by the hand of Dieu Thierry Henry. Unfortunately the French comprehensively outplayed them for a 33-10 win. They look very good indeed. The tournament is now taking a week off to let players recover a bit, but in two weeks time France will come to Cardiff. Wales will have to raise their game significantly to avoid a thrashing. Richie Rees appears to have done enough to earn a start at scrum half ahead of the ineffective Cooper, but I’m very worried about Wales at the breakdown and the lineout. Thankfully the French lineout is their one weakness, but their back row forwards are probably the best in the tournament.

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