Wales got their 2018 Natwest Six Nations campaign off to a flyer on Saturday afternoon as Scotland were comfortably dispatched at the Principality Stadium in a breathless test match between two attacking sides.
It was billed as Scarlets v Glasgow in the build up to the game, with Gregor Townsend modelling the national side on the Warriors team he departed to take the job, while Warren Gatland opted to name 10 players from the reigning Pro14 champions in his starting XV.
That clearly showed as both teams made early clean breaks, through Jonny Gray and Steff Evans respectively, but a brilliant Josh Navidi turnover and a loose Leigh Halfpenny offload put paid to those early chances.
What would break the deadlock after six minutes was a brilliant piece of modern scrum-half play as Gareth Davies, defending at third man out, took advantage of two steps from Ali Price before passing to sprint from an onside position and make the interception before outpacing Chris Harris to score in the corner.
Halfpenny notched the conversion from the touchline and was almost straight back on the tee as Wales stormed downfield from kick-off. Gareth Davies shaped to box kick clear but switched to running it from deep as Hadleigh Parkes made ground.
He was brought down on halfway but from the next phase Aaron Shingler ran through a large hole in the Scottish defence, linking in with Cory Hill, Rob Evans and Alun Wyn Jones, but the final pass slipped agonisingly away from the fingers of Steff Evans.
With immediate danger averted, Scotland had the scrum on their own five metre line to secure and clear. However, Ali Price shot his team in the foot with a crooked scrum feed, something the referees clearly stated pre-tournament that they would be targeting.
Wales opted for a scrum of their own, and after some close carries they went wide through Scott Williams via Cory Hill for Leigh Halfpenny to crash over out wide. The full-back’s first international try in five years which he subsequently converted for a 14-0 home lead after 10 minutes.
The pace of the game stayed almost unbelievably high for the next 10 minutes as well, with both Scotland looking to chase the game and making ground through Huw Jones, and Wales attempting to stretch their lead as Josh Adams put a dangerous chip in to chase down the right wing.
After that hectic start the pace eventually settled midway through the first half, as Scotland started to dominate possession and territory but never really threatened the try line. In part this was due to a faltering Scottish attack that had made eight handling errors by half-time. Uncharacteristic for Gregor Townsend’s side.
It was also in part due to a well organised Wales defence though, which pressured Finn Russell into making poor decisions and stopped Scotland getting over the gain line for front foot ball. Hadleigh Parkes, Scott Williams and Josh Adams forming up a formidable wall any time the Scots entered the wide channels.
With Scotland wasting a five metre scrum after Leigh Halfpenny was forced back over his own line after a Huw Jones chip through, the score was left a precarious 14-0, with the next score likely to prove crucial in how the second half would play out.
That score would go to Wales through the boot of Halfpenny after Gareth Davies collected a Steff Evans kick through, only for Scotland to infringe on the floor as the scramble defence kicked in.
Five minutes later he would extend the lead further, after John Barclay was pinged for placing his hands on the floor, and now Wales were on the hunt for blood. Steff Evans and Josh Adams both had chances to run free over the next 10 minutes, while Wyn Jones was held up just short of the line.
Eventually the Welsh pressure told, and when Rhys Patchell chased down his own stabbed kick through and forced Greig Laidlaw into touch, it created a perfect attacking position. A few phases of hard carrying later the ball was spun wide and some delicate hands from Steff Evans sent Halfpenny over for his second try of the game.
Just like buses, you wait five years for an international try and then two come along at once. The conversion made the score 27-0, and that was almost extended instantly as Wales stormed back to the redzone. Gareth Anscombe produced a superb offload, but Wyn Jones was once again held up as the try line beckoned.
Another try went begging a few minutes later as Anscombe sent Alun Wyn Jones through a hole in the Scottish defence but just couldn’t gather the final pass, as it seemed the bonus point try would not quite arrive.
Just when it seemed Wales were destined for an incomplete performance though, the Scarlets way told. A turnover on the right wing was quickly moved through hands in midfield before Aaron Shingler made ground. The flanker’s offload allowed Parkes to carry down the left and he fed Steff Evans on his outside to produce a superb finish.
Halfpenny’s 24th point of the day made the scores 34-0, and although Scotland stole a consolation try late on through Peter Horne, it did nothing to dampen the atmosphere inside a jubilant Principality Stadium.
Warren Gatland will claim he predicted something similar to a 34-7 scoreline, but in truth, a performance on that scale must have been a shock to everyone. A very pleasant shock, of course.
Whether by choice or necessity, picking the Wales side on form was the correct course to take, and at this time a Welsh form XV should be stocked with Scarlets. The attacking game was far more fluid and natural than the forced looking style of play that was imposed upon the side in the Autumn Internationals.
There was also a very clever defensive setup that helped to force a distinctly under-par looking Scotland side into further mistakes, thanks to some solo blitzers out wide and the work rate of the forwards around the fringes of the work.
Factor in replacements making strong impacts off the bench and an immensely clever kicking game lead by Rhys Patchell, and there’s all the ingredients of a perfect opening day of the Six Nations performance.
The real work starts next week now though as a trip to Twickenham beckons for a game that will really decide the Championship credentials of Wales. England were imperious in their defeat of Italy in round one, it will take another level of performance from Warren Gatland’s men to match our old rivals.