x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Wales get off to a flyer

The Grand Slam champions Wales made a flying start to their Six Nations title defence and set alarm bells ringing in the England camp.

Alun-Wyn Jones, left, hands off a tackle by Hugo Southwell in Wales commanding 26-13 victory at Murrayfield.
Alun-Wyn Jones, left, hands off a tackle by Hugo Southwell in Wales commanding 26-13 victory at Murrayfield.

The Grand Slam champions Wales made a flying start to their Six Nations title defence and set alarm bells ringing in the England camp. Martin Johnson's men are next up for Wales in six days' time, and the journey to Cardiff should be filled with trepidation. Wales brushed aside the loss of the injured Lions Gavin Henson and Ryan Jones to send Scotland packing. First-half tries by the centre Tom Shanklin and the lock Alun-Wyn Jones left the Scots reeling, before the winger Leigh Halfpenny's touchdown just 48 seconds into the second period finished them off. The Winger Shane Williams' 45th Test try merely underlined Welsh supremacy, cranking up the pressure on Scotland coach Frank Hadden, whose team selection baffled many north of the border. The 4-1 try count said everything about Wales' dominance. The fly-half Stephen Jones, a towering tactical presence, could even afford to miss every conversion, although he slotted two penalties. Wales, seeking back-to-back Grand Slams last achieved 100 years ago, remain unbeaten in the Six Nations since March 2007. Substitute Max Evans scored Scotland's try, but life will not get easier for Hadden with France looming in Paris next Saturday. The Llanelli Scarlets flanker Dafydd Jones made his first Six Nations start since 2005, while Shanklin replaced Henson, forging an all-Cardiff Blues midfield partnership alongside Jamie Roberts, and flanker Martyn Williams took over leadership duties. Scotland handed Edinburgh prop Geoff Cross his international debut instead of the injured Euan Murray, with Jason White covering Nathan Hines' absence by moving from back-row to lock. The opening 10 minutes proved a sparring match as both sides probed for an opening, yet Wales soon made attacking inroads. Shanklin twice ran aggressively into the heart of Scottish territory, and Shane Williams came off his wing, hungry for work. Wales were keen to put width on the ball, and the Scotland winger Simon Webster required treatment after throwing himself at Williams in a successful attempt to quell a vibrant Welsh attack. Jones booted Wales into a 12th-minute lead, but Scotland responded by establishing their most threatening territorial position of the game, aided by strong running from flanker Ally Hogg. But a lengthy delay followed when Cross took out Wales fullback Lee Byrne in mid-air. Byrne got up immediately, but Cross appeared to take the Wales player's knee flush in the face and he was stretchered off. Scotland could not replace him immediately though, as referee Alain Rolland yellow-carded Cross for the challenge, and there was further disruption for Scotland when a groggy Webster departed to be replaced by Paterson. But as the Scots regrouped, Wales capitalised, launching another flowing back move that saw Williams and Byrne link menacingly before Shanklin powered over. Jones botched the conversion attempt, yet Wales were good value for their 8-0 advantage during what had been a stop-start affair during the first 25 minutes. And matters soon deteriorated further for Scotland, as Wales cashed in on disrupting their scrum, launching a Stephen Jones raid before scrum-half Mike Phillips delivered the scoring pass to lock Jones. Paterson opened Scotland's account with a penalty nine minutes before the break, but Wales were in no mood to concede further points. A Welsh defence that conceded just two tries during last season's entire Six Nations tournament thwarted Scottish adventure, highlighted through a stunning try-saving tackle by the number eight Andy Powell on Paterson. Powell counter-attacked from the ensuing scrum, Wales charged up field, and Jones struck his second penalty with the half's final kick, securing a 16-3 interval advantage. Wales were keen to close the game out, but they could not have expected to seal the deal just 48 seconds after the restart. Stephen Jones' strong midfield run scattered the Scottish defence, allowing Wales time and space for Shane Williams to free Halfpenny for a try on his Six Nations debut. Shane Williams then scored following sustained pressure, and with the job done, Wales boss Warren Gatland made five substitutions, before captain Williams was sin-binned for a high tackle. Scotland searched for a consolation try, and it duly arrived 11 minutes from time courtesy of Evans, which Paterson converted following his two earlier penalties. The Scots enjoyed their best spell of the game late on, and Paterson almost scored, but he could not ground the ball ahead of a scrambling Byrne. Wales, though, had comfortably done enough, winning a Test match they never remotely looked like losing. * PA Sport