Scotland 24 – Wales 25
NEVER-DAY-DIE Wales fought back from 17-3 down against a quality Scotland team to gain their second win of this year’s Six Nations.
In the first round game, Wales got dragged into a knock-down-drag-out scrap against Ireland which left them with a long injury list and the need to draw extra players into the squad. With so many key players out injured, the side travelled to Murrayfield bearing the weight of fans hopes rather than expectations.
And what a game those fans got!
A Scottish side full of flair and confidence and a Welsh side with pace at the back and renewed physical presence up front served up a heart-stopping thriller in arctic conditions in Edinburgh.
Scotland were on a high after beating England at Twickenham for the first time in 38 years in the last round. Their pack took England to the cleaners in the Calcutta Cup match and the Scots skilful backline looked sharp with ball in hand.
However, a lack of ruthlessness in their opponent’s twenty-two made the English game closer than it should’ve been and the home side were similarly wasteful with their territorial and possession advantages against Wales.
Too many times the Scots got into Wales’ danger zone only to overplay or misplay the advantage.
With markedly less ball and even less territory, Wales were much more ruthless than the hosts at converting presence in the opposition’s twenty-two into points.
Seeking to win their fifth Six Nations game in a row, Darcy Graham scored Scotland’s first try. Gathering a clever chip over the top by scrum-half Ali Price, Graham shook of Leigh Halfpenny’s desperate tackle and scored under the posts.
Scotland’s second try owed something to luck – both good and bad – Stuart Hogg kicked ahead and gave chase. For all the world. Halfpenny looked to have the ball covered only for it to wriggle free on the greasy surface and he went to ground. Hogg, who is the form fullback in the northern hemisphere, gathered the ball and touched down.
At 17-3 down, Wales were under the cosh but still competitive.
A driving maul from a short lineout saw Wales plough their way up-field in a series of short drives to near the Scottish line. The ball worked across the backline before Nick Tompkins fine pass found Louis Rees-Zammitt lurking with try-scoring intent. From close range, the winger made no mistake and scored the try which sent Wales in at the half 17-8 down.
Wales coach Wayne Pivac changed his half-backs on 51 minutes and was rewarded with an immediate return. Another brilliant driving line-out carved deep into the Scottish 22. Swift ball across the three-quarters released Liam Williams, whose sparkling try was converted by Callum Sheedy to bring Wales within two points.
Shortly afterwards came the moment which left Scots feeling aggrieved. As Wyn Jones challenged for the ball at the breakdown, opposite number Zander Fagerson ploughed into the ruck. Leading with his should he made direct contact with the Welsh prop’s head.
The rules on head contact are clear. Fagerson’s illegal attempt at a clear-out was given a straight red.
As former England prop David Flatman explained after the game: “Zander Fagerson’s red card was a red card. Rugby is changing and, as much as it all seems to be about the elite end of the game, the reality is the exact opposite.
“While the elite game is the most visible, it is rightly being used as a vehicle to make safer all those games of rugby that are played on muddy, isolated fields, away from specialist medical care and high definition cameras.
“Red cards like Fagerson’s are literally designed to make children safer on Sunday mornings.”
To add insult to injury, Wales’ capitalised on their one-man advantage with Wyn Jones touching down after more good close driving work by the Welsh forwards near the Scottish line.
Back came Scotland. Spurning two easy shots at goal, they created space for the ever-dangerous Stuart Hogg to turn on the pace and score a try, which Russell’s touchline conversion made into a four-point lead.
A moment of individual skill by Louis Rees-Zammitt was the standout moment of Wales’ performance. Travelling at full pelt, the Gloucester flyer latched on to Willy Halaholo’s perfectly weighted pass. Without breaking stride, the winger chipped it over the Scottish defence, outpaced Stuart Hogg (no mean feat) and gathered his own kick in Murrayfield’s deep in goal area to touch down.
Still Scotland came again and deep into stoppage time worked the ball to Scotland’s giant winger, Duhan van der Merwe. For all the world, it looked as though the last play of the match would see Welsh hearts broken at Murrayfield. Scrambling back, Owen Watkin produced the perfect tap tackle. With the clock in the red zone, Wales made no mistake in kicking the ball dead to seal the win.
Wales’ bold replacement of both half backs made near the start of the second half, galvanised the Welsh midfield at the expense of kicking reliability. If Wales bring Josh Adams back into the side against England and move Liam Williams to full-back, it is almost certain that Dan Biggar will start at outside half. Callum Sheedy, for all his skill with ball-in-hand, remains too fallible from the tee to be Wales’ frontline kicker.
Apart from an early misfire, Wales’ lineout was vastly improved. After an initial long throw went straight to Scottish hands, hooker Ken Owens and his callers kept it simple. Wales’ forward drives from the lineouts were a significant game-changer for the Welsh pack. The tactic gave Wales’ backs room by sucking in the Scottish defence.
It’s England for the Triple Crown next for Wales and, while England have been unconvincing so far, a Welsh win would still be an upset result. England have power and pace. If they can add precision to the mix, they will take some stopping.
Head coach Wayne Pivac commented: “It’s a very pleasing start, but I think it was evident to everyone that it wasn’t the complete performance.
“At 17-3 down, it wasn’t going to script but the players regathered their thoughts, the leadership on the field was good, and we came away with that score before half time.
“That was vital for us going into the changing room. The players reacted very well after half time, the replacements made an impact, and it was very nice to get the result at the end.”
On Louis Rees-Zammit, Wayne Pivac said: “He was exciting with the ball, wasn’t he? He took his opportunities very well. He’s still got work to do on his game without the ball, and that’s the exciting thing.
“He’s going to be a very exciting player for us going forward.”
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones added: “We’re well aware there are massive improvements to make.
“You can’t give a team two tries, but I’m pleased with the resilience, character and pride in the jersey we’re still showing. What you’re seeing as well is a product of the experimentation from the Autumn Nations Cup and the hurt we took.
“Irrelevant of the advantage, I’d like to think we were in the ascendancy before the card.
“We’re aware England had a good win and are back on track. We’ll be back in Cardiff, so we’ll regroup and improve on the parts we need to.”
Alun Wyn Jones added: “Louis has been playing well for Gloucester in the Premiership. I’d heard a lot about him and seen a lot of highlights of him. Hopefully, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“I don’t want to heap the pressure on him, I want him to continue in a similar vein.”
Cup wins for Ammanford teams
AMMANFORD reached the next round of the SWCA T20 Knockout Cup by beating Carmarthen Wanderers by 6 wickets with 2 overs to spare.
Wanderers batted first and reached 91 for 9, thanks mainly to Tom Davies (37) and Iestyn Scourfield (23).
For Ammanford, Matthew Fisher picked up 3 for 17 while Owen Davies and Callum Croft bagged a couple each.
Ammanford took just 18 overs to overhaul the Carmarthen total for the loss of four wickets.
Josef Davies top-scored with 35, helped by Rhodri Davies (16) and Matthew Fisher (22no).
Ammanford’s third XI defeated Llanelli seconds by 82 runs in the SWCA Intermediate Cup at the Park on Sunday.
Batting first, Ammanford scored a creditable 144 for 7 from their 20 overs.
Steffan Wyn Williams top-scored with 41, whilst other contributions came from David Lumb (21) Sam Potter (17) and Neville Pritchard (29no).
Llanelli could only manage 62 for 6 in reply, Sam Potter picking up two wickets for 10 runs.
Ammanford lose again to Newport but seconds win
AMMANFORD slipped to the bottom of Premier One with a 20 run defeat to Newport in another high-scoring match at the Park.
Ammanford skipper Alun Evans looked to have made the right decision when he invited Newport to bat and promptly took the wicket of opener Morgan Bevans with the score on 1.
That was as far as their luck went, though. The next wicket didn’t fall for another 130 runs as Michael Clayden (58) and Callum Taylor (93) made the most of a friendly batting track.
A further setback for the home team took the shape of Mujahid Ilyas who blasted a rapid 68 which included 6 sixes.
Newport closed on a forbidding 277 for 5.
Forbidding, but not impossible.
Ammanford got off to their best start for several seasons as Alun Evans (73) and Matthew Fisher took the opening stand to 185.
When Fisher fell for a terrific 112, Ammanford still needed 90 runs at ten an over, and despite a quickfire unbeaten 41 from Dan Roberts, couldn’t make up the rate.
When Evans was dismissed for 73, that signalled the end of Ammanford’s challenge and they fell short of their target by 20 runs.
Ammanford have now scored 516 runs in their last two matches without a win.
Next week they face another tough trip as they travel to league leaders St Fagans.
Ammanford second XI
AMMANFORD seconds recorded their first win of the season with a well-earned victory at Gorseinon.
Put in to bat, Ammanford scored 204 for 6. Openers Adam Lyons (44) and Callum Croft (58) gave them a great start while number three Fin Jeffries chipped in with 22.
Gorseinon could only manage 179 in reply, opener Jamie Hill being their top scorer with 48.
Fin Jeffries turned in a good bowling performance with 4 for 38, supported by Iestyn Jones and Jac Davies with a couple each.
The victory enabled Ammanford to leap-frog Gorseinon off the foot of the table.
Ammanford well beaten by Port Talbot
AMMANFORD slipped closer to the foot of Premier One with a high-scoring defeat to Port Talbot Town at The New Mansel.
Ammanford were put in to bat on a glorious afternoon and made hay while the sun shone with an opening partnership of 61 between Matthew Fisher and Alun Evans.
When Fisher departed for 40, Daniel Evans took over and his partnership with his skipper took the score to 155 before Roberts was caught on 49.
When Evans fell for an anchoring 86, the Davies brothers, Rhodri (28no) and Rhys (22no) saw out the Ammanford innings, taking their total to a formidable 259 for 4.
Formidable it may have been, but Port Talbot’s batsmen were up to the challenge.
Glamorgan’s Nick Selman led the charge before he was dismissed by Fisher for 47.
The main partnership of 123, however, came between Joseph Voke (84) and Matthew Thompson (74no).
There were still three overs remaining when Port Talbot cruised past the Ammanford total for the loss of 3 wickets.
Things won’t get much easier for Ammanford next week when Newport visit the Park.
Ammanford seconds v Ynystawe
Ammanford seconds continued their miserable sequence of defeats with a 4 wicket loss to Ynystawe at the Park.
A promising start from Eirian Morgan (13) and David Lumb (17) preceded a middle order collapse which was rescued by a terrific individual performance from captain Jamie Evans, whose 76 helped Ammanford reach 167 all out.
Ynystawe’s middle order by contrast kept the scoreboard ticking over, an undefeated partnership between Rowan Evans (31no) and Arun Maurya (26no) taking them past Ammanford’s total with four wickets and 16 overs to spare.
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