Wales secured a bonus point win over 14-man Scotland at Murrayfield after a comeback from 14 points down to go top of the Guinness Six Nations table overnight.
Both sides were unbeaten going into the game, with Scotland having beaten England at Twickenham for the first time in over 30 years, while Wales had overcome another 14-man side in Ireland at the Principality Stadium.
Wayne Pivac had been struck down with injuries during the week though, with Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, Josh MacLeod, Tomos Williams, Johnny Williams, George North and Hallam Amos joining Jon Davies and the suspended Josh Adams as unavailable for selection. Instead there were starts for Aaron Wainwright, Gareth Davies, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin and Liam Williams.
Despite the makeshift nature of the backline in particular, it was Wales who had the best of the opening exchanges, putting 12 attacking phases together and tempting the hosts offside with Leigh Halfpenny getting the scoring going off the tee.
However, from there until just before the break it was all Scotland, starting with Alun Wyn Jones being caught on the wrong side of the breakdown and allowing Finn Russell to draw the scores level.
Then a sharp attacking set allowed the hosts to head down field, until Ali Price and Darcy Graham got on the same wavelength and the scrum-half put a perfect dink over the Welsh defence for his winger to run on to and evade Leigh Halfpenny to score under the posts. Russell added the extras.
The home side were winning the kicking battle and pinning Wales back in our own 22 easily, before they struck for the second try of the game, this time from a lineout. On the first phase strike play the ball was worked wide to Stuart Hogg who chipped over the top, Halfpenny couldn’t secure possession going back towards his own line and the Scottish captain was on hand to score, with Russell converting.
Before half-time though there was a lifeline for the visitors as a serious penalties allowed us to kick to the corner and then a penalty advantage saw the ball shifted wide. Nick Tompkins did well to get the ball away to Liam Williams and he put Louis Rees-Zammit in to the corner for a 17-8 score at the break.
Immediately after the interval it seemed Wales were hell bent on playing ourselves out of the game, with two quick unforced errors giving Scotland field position, but an heroic try line defensive set resulted in the hosts obstructing themselves as they tried to cross the whitewash.
At this point a brave substitution from Wayne Pivac saw him exchange experienced starting half-backs Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar for younger prospects Kieran Hardy and Callum Sheedy, and straight away it paid off as Sheedy’s quick hands put Louis Rees-Zammit through a gap and Liam Williams was on his shoulder to score.
Sheedy’s conversion brought the deficit back to two points, and then the real game changing moment occurred as Zander Fagerson entered a breakdown late with no arms and connected his shoulder to the face of Wyn Jones, with Matthew Carley showing the prop a red card.
Wales took advantage of the extra man quickly as they kicked into the Scotland 22 and set up a superb driving maul, gaining us 15 metres to the try line, before Wyn Jones himself was the man to push over from close range.
The Scots weren’t going to roll over easily though as replacement tighthead WP Nel caused all sorts of problems at the scrum and pushed his side into the red zone. From a first phase play Stuart Hogg was able to get on the outside of Owen Watkin and score a crucial try, with Finn Russell converting.
However, Wales were still sensing victory and playing with the kind of free confidence that comes from having Hardy, Sheedy and Halaholo in the three-quarter line. A brilliant attacking set pushed and pulled the home defence before Halaholo got into some space down the right and freed Rees-Zammit. The winger still had a lot of work to do but a wonderful chip and chase over Hogg secured the match-winning try.
There was still some defending to do, but a huge rip in contact from James Botham, a stunning kick from Rees-Zammit and then a match saving tap tackle from Watkin on Duhan van der Merwe secured a 24-25 win for Wales at Murrayfield that will go down among the great games against Scotland.
For a second week in a row the opposition going down to 14 was the crucial moment of the match, but the second half performance in particular was a huge positive for Wales, who proved we can still win games when it seems they are beyond us and that the future is very bright. Two from two…