Scotland 18-28 Wales, Six Nations
Can we forget this ever happened?
March 9, 2013
Wales' Richard Hibbard wrestles with the Scottish defence during a forgettable clash at Murrayfield © Getty Images
The Six Nations so often serves up a match that reminds us how thrilling and exciting this sport can be but sadly this was not one of them - far from it.
A capacity crowd at Murrayfield were treated to a procession of penalties punctuated by the odd passage of rugby - and not very good rugby at that. So prolific was the penalty count that attempts at the posts reached world record proportions. Never before have 18 attempts been fired at the sticks and let's hope never again.
But Wales will not be too troubled by the lack of edge-of-the-seat entertainment having kept their Six Nations title hopes alive with what is expected to be a Grand Slam-chasing England still to visit Cardiff next weekend. Not so long ago the Welsh were well and truly in the mire having slumped to eight straight Test defeats - including an embarrassing reverse at the hands of Samoa in the autumn. An opening championship defeat to Ireland and coach Warren Gatland's sabbatical suggested that they were on course for yet more pain but they have steadied the ship with victories over France, Italy and now Scotland and to still be in with a chance of claiming the title heading into the final weekend of the championship is more than many could have hoped having surveyed the wreckage of a harrowing end of year campaign.
A Welsh pack fresh from bullying a formidable Italian forward unit on their own patch kicked on against a Scotland side not short of muscle themselves. A resurgent Sam Warburton, with a clear point to prove on his return to the side, was at the heart of proceedings and his return to something like top form will not have escaped Gatland who was looking on from the stands. Without the added pressure of the captaincy, with No.8 Ryan Jones having reclaimed the honour in his rival's absence, Warburton was able to immerse himself fully in a brutal breakdown battle and his endeavour was rewarded with the Man of the Match honour.
Warburton's impressive industry was one of the key reasons why fullback Leigh Halfpenny was able to inflict so much pain on the Scots. His 23-point haul underlined his value to Wales while his ability to shrug off some early kicking woes and resume normal service illustrated his equally important maturity. A world-class talent, he won his personal duel with Scotland rival Stuart Hogg although there will surely be room for both in the British & Irish Lions squad.
Halfpenny's composure mirrored that of his side who, unlike Ireland on their recent visit to Edinburgh, were able to convert pressure and territory into points against a Scotland side committed to the extreme in defence. Patience proved pivotal as the visitors hammered away with hooker Richard Hibbard the eventual beneficiary. They were cool-headed under pressure as well and have now not conceded a try since their loss to Ireland - a run of three and a half games.
In contrast, Scotland appeared to do all they could to get rid of the ball although the difficult conditions will have played a part in their game plan. Despite their encouraging victories over Italy and Ireland last month, they lacked confidence with ball in hand as if the expectancy of a hopeful home crowd weighed heavy on their shoulders and they gifted Wales too many points. Victory would have kept their own title hopes alive but they were unable to keep that dream alive with the game-breaking talents of Hogg, Tim Visser and Sean Maitland seeing precious little ball with which to wreak havoc with. Once again they were not short of heart and Greig Laidlaw is a real threat with the boot but that will one only get them so far and interim coach Scott Johnson must work out how to take his side to the next level.
While the players must should some of the blame for their failure to spark this match into life, both sides may have good reason to point the finger at referee Craig Joubert who has had better games. His whistle got quite a work out but he did not see fit to wield his yellow card until the closing moments of the game. If his patience had run out a little earlier then the teams may have had a little more space to exploit and we would have a little more excitement to report but instead players and pundits alike were left scratching their heads at a series of puzzling decisions with Wales arguably getting the rub of the green.
This game represents Joubert's last referee appointment in this year's Six Nations - although he will serve as an assistant in Cardiff in a week's time - so he will have to wait for an opportunity to repair his reputation but at least Wales and Scotland have a chance to restore our faith in them and the championship next weekend - let's hope they do.
Wales' Mike Phillips is caught by Scotland's Greig Laidlaw and Johnnie Beattie © Getty Images
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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